Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sam Thinks He Can . . . Write a Eulogy

It's been about 1-1/2 months since Louis Meyers reneged on his commitment to me to live to be 100. Tomorrow will be the first Veteran's Day Holiday in 25 years that I won't be able to call Louis and thank him for his service to our country in WWII. The illness that finally took him in September progressed so quickly and so unexpectedly that I regularly find myself reaching for the phone to call him before remembering that I cannot do that anymore. I was asked by his family to speak at Louis' memorial service. Because of a non-modifiable prior obligation, I was not going to be at the funeral home long enough to speak. Instead, I wrote a letter to Louis. His step-son filled in for me. The funeral director called it a "love letter". I suppose it was. Louis and I had some amazing times together. As his attorney and as his friend, it was a privilege to share his life. In honor of Louis Meyers on the occasion of Veteran's Day, I'm posting my "love letter".

Dear Louis:
I’m sorry I couldn’t stay for the whole shindig, but I made a commitment a month ago to photograph the incoming class at the synagogue’s religious school tonight. I know you always approved when I was hanging out with the Rabbi and staying out of trouble, so I’m sure you’ll understand.

On the other hand, your beloved Donna asked me to share a few words about the man I knew and loved. For 25 years you’ve been telling me I write a “damn good letter” when I put my mind to it, so here’s the last one. This time, I don’t have to write to convince anyone of anything. Everyone in earshot knows what a truly remarkable life you lived. This time, I have to say goodbye. It’s a good thing you’re off the clock. This letter isn’t coming quickly.

You and I met one Wednesday morning in September, 1982. I had already missed the first 66 years of your life. You had missed the first 30 of mine. We met in a conference room at 8:00 a.m. in St. Paul at the Northwest Bank. It was the morning after my father had lost his bid to become the DFL candidate for State Treasurer, losing in the primary to some guy from Florida. I was not in a good mood. All I had wanted to do the night before was to drink away my disappointment. But I had to be in St. Paul at 8 a.m. to meet with a new client one of my partners had pawned off on me because the case was getting to be too difficult for him to handle. I stayed sober that election night. I like to think that even before we met, you were looking out for my well-being.

Over the next few years, we straightened out the mess that brought us together in 1982. I learned quickly that you were a man of principle. I was practicing a lot of bankruptcy law at the time. You made it clear from day one that you weren’t a bankruptcy client. And you stuck to your guns. I just had to work harder and write those “damn good” letters you admired.

I tell people I represented “Mr. St. Paul”. When we met for lunch in the town you loved, I had to plan on an extra half hour just to get through the skyway with you. There didn’t seem to be a person on your side of the river that you didn’t know. Whether you had lent them money at TCF, worked with them on the St. Paul Chamber, developed projects while on the Port Authority, or represented them on a land deal, everyone knew you and had to stop, chat and share your camaraderie. Even if you told me they were an S.O.B. after they walked away.

You were one of a very few clients I would drink with at lunch. For the most part, I gave up that practice when I left Washington. But it just didn’t seem right drinking iced tea while you were enjoying your Windsor soda cloudy. When I was with you, that’s what I drank, too. It seemed somehow respectful. We had our clubs: Nye’s in Minneapolis and Awada’s in St. Paul. One day you called me from home in St. Paul for lunch and I told you I’d meet you at “the Club”. I drove from Minneapolis to Awada’s, took our usual booth and ordered two Windsor soda cloudy. One for me and one for you. You hadn’t arrived by the time I finished mine, so I started on yours. That was gone and I had ordered my third when I realized you were 30 minutes late, an unheard of occurrence. A light bulb went off in my head. I called Nye’s and asked if you were there. Sure enough, you were waiting for me at the bar at our other club. Johnny gave me a “to go” cup for the rest of my third Windsor soda cloudy and I had a memorable, if stupid, drive to Nye’s.

I’ll always remember you for speaking your mind. When the doctor described hospice care to you last week, and you agreed that it was for the best, your one question: “Where is this joint?” When I called you in April, 1983, to tell you that my firstborn was a boy, you exclaimed, “Congratulations, you hung the handle on him!” You had choice words for all Republicans and even some for disfavored Democrats. You bitched about my “Japanese Cadillac”, having had enough Japanese hospitality in World War II. You had ways of describing a good looking woman that I will not put in writing.

It’s hard to believe that our work and play together has come to an end. The fishing on Lake of the Woods and Lake Vermillion, the gambling in “joints” all over the State, the lunches and dinners at Nye’s and Gulden’s and Awada’s and Gino’s and Mancini’s (never Chinese), the many glasses of Windsor soda cloudy, the family stories, the hopes for the future. It was quite the ride.

Finally, Louis, you need to know I understand that we had much more than the good times together. You had serious lessons to teach and I had the honor of being your student for 25 years.

You taught me to be persistent. We worked on a lot of deals that should have closed, but didn’t. Those were the ones you had me work on a contingency. Always the smart banker. And always sticking with it, hanging on to your real estate license to the end. I’ll miss your long handwritten memos on yellow legal pads that included all the deal points you had me put into contract form. Some people refuse to learn how to use a computer. You had them beat. You refused to learn how to type.

You taught me the beauty of loyalty. You never waivered in your political convictions. You were Hubert Humphrey’s banker and you lived your life as a party-line DFL’er. You loved the fact that you were the first Democratic president of the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce and had the chance to show all those Republicans what money and heart could accomplish. You stood by friends who had fallen on difficult times through the years. You were devoted to your family, even as it became more extended late in life.

You taught me about honor. Honor through reputation. Honor through friendship. Honor through living a righteous life. Those pedestrians in the St. Paul skyway didn’t have to stop. They wanted to stop. They wanted to share more time with Mr. St. Paul, to be in his presence, to reminisce, to gossip, to plot, to be included in his circle. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since. Yours was a magnetic personality that continued to draw in your admirers long after you were in a position to make them a loan or build them a port. (What DOES the Port Authority do?)

In Judaism, we have a concept: In every generation, there are 36 righteous individuals in the world, living simple, humble, anonymous lives. Because of these 36 souls, God preserves the world for all of us. No one knows which individuals are the righteous so we are all instructed to live our lives as if we had been so designated by God and to treat everyone we meet as if we were in the presence of one of these Divine designees. Louis, you lived your life well. You loved. You laughed. You learned. You shared. You provided. You relaxed. As far as I’m concerned, as of last Friday, the world was down to 35.

All my love,


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