Sunday, November 06, 2005

Requiescat in Pace

The old glider pilot is gone. What do we say now?

Ed Silverbrand died early on Saturday, November 5, 2005. He was born on April 16, 1912. He liked to point out that it was the day after the sinking of the Titanic, so that was one thing that could not be blamed on him.

Every eulogy is basically the same: a combination of remembrance and leave-taking. How does one avoid just stitching together a patchwork of clich├ęs into yet another memorial quilt? (For those of you paying attention, that was one.) In many ways, Ed's life makes it easier in his case than in most. He certainly did live a full life, full with family, friends, and accomplishments. No doubt he would smile to hear us say he was one of the outstanding men of his generation, for at 93 he was just about the last of his generation. We who were privileged to be numbered among his friends never ceased to marvel at his unflagging intellectual curiosity, mental acuity, and joie de vivre. We can and should add savoir faire, as long as we're reaching for apt foreign phrases that describe Ed so well.

Ed Silverbrand was an educator in many different capacities: first, in the traditional fashion, as a classroom teacher; second, in an administrative capacity, as a school principal; third, as a lobbyist in Sacramento representing the interests of school districts. He had a particular passion for adult education, perhaps because he himself was a lifelong learner who wanted to keep the classroom doors open for everyone. For many years Ed published The Silver File, a newsletter on developments in state and federal education legislation and policies. Even after he finally retired from lobbying in his eighties, Ed continued to churn out The Silver File and distribute copies to his friends. Occasionally he would threaten to give us a quiz on an issue's contents.

A prodigious autodidact, Ed was always reading. His formal education was in mathematics (AB from Stanford) and school administration (MA from Stanford), but his self-study embraced an enormous range of subjects, including music (he played the viola), history, politics, and physics. He was a regular participant in a Sacramento lunch group consisting of friends and former aides of state Senator Albert S. Rodda. Each Friday he would flourish the latest Silver File and pass around one or two books that were currently holding his attention. No one could keep up with him, although sometimes we would point out that he had quite a headstart on us.

During World War II, Ed trained as a glider pilot, although he did not see action. Later he qualified for a private pilot's license, which license he retained till he was in his eighties. In some ways, Ed always seemed to be in a hurry. Flying was a way to get there faster.

Like everyone else, Ed Silverbrand's luck varied throughout his life and not everything worked out quite the way he might have hoped. It is undeniable, though, that he was singularly fortunate in his choice of his wife Esther, who survives him, and was his pillar of support as his amazing strength finally began to wane. We think of Esther, and wish her strength of her own, and we think of Ed's son Richard, who proudly continues his father's legacy of curiosity and accomplishment.

Ed Silverbrand was an exemplar of the gentleman scholar. We have seldom seen his like, but his sterling example makes each of us aspire to be more like him. Even if we are given his length of days, the task will not be easy. It will, however, be worthwhile.