Monday, April 21, 2014

The life and death of Sidney Weintraub (1922-2014)

Sidney Weintraub

   Sidney Weintraub (1922-2014)

Some of you may have wondered why I haven't been blogging during the past two months, and have been mostly incommunicado more generally.  (I know that such questions would have occurred to a very tiny portion of humanity at most; but there may be a few of you out there, and I feel I should offer you some explanation.)  The main reason is that  for the past two months most of my time, energy, and attention have been tied up with what proved to be the terminal illness of my father, Sidney Weintraub.

My father and my stepmother, Elizabeth Midgley, had a house in Cuernavaca, Mexico where they stayed from time to time.  In early February, during one of those visits, my father became very ill.  A long medical emergency followed, including hospitalization with intensive care followed by prolonged home care.  After he was released from the hospital on March 2, there were several periods when it looked as though he might be (slowly) recovering, but in the end it didn't happen.  He died early in the morning on Thursday, April 10—in their house in Cuernavaca, not in a hospital.  I spent a substantial portion of the past two months down in Cuernavaca, but my stepmother and I flew back to the US last Wednesday.

Normally, Jewish practice calls for a speedy burial.  But bringing my father's body back to the US from Mexico turned out to be very complicated bureaucratically and logistically, and further complications at the US end produced additional delays.  So my father's burial, with a graveside Jewish service, will take place next Monday, April 28, at the Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, DC.  (He'll be buried next to my mother, Gladys Weintraub, who died in 2001.)

 =>  After growing up in New York City, serving in Europe in World War II, and working briefly as a journalist, my father spent 26 years as a US Foreign Service Officer (with postings abroad in Madagascar, Mexico, Japan, Thailand, and Chile).  He got a Ph.D. in economics in the process.  Also, my sister Marcy was born in 1950  in Tananarive, Madagascar (now Antananarivo, Malagasy Republic); my sister Debbi was born in Mexico City in 1953; and I had my bar mitzvah in Bangkok, Thailand in 1960 (quite possibly the first recorded bar mitzvah in the history of Thailand, according to reliable sources).

Then, starting in January 1976, my father left the government and embarked on overlapping careers as an academic, think-tanker, public-policy advocate, and prominent expert on Mexico and US-Mexican relations.  (In 2006 the Mexican government awarded him the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest decoration granted by Mexico to foreigners.)  Among his other accomplishments, he's widely considered one of the intellectual fathers of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)—a distinction that has made him "revered" in some circles (as someone once put it to a friend of mine) and rather less revered in others, depending on people's opinions regarding NAFTA and its consequences. (On this subject, see here & here for a start.)  Throughout his adult life he was a committed New Deal Democrat (despite disagreements with some other Democrats on some issues), a quietly patriotic American with broadly internationalist sympathies, and a proud Jew.

 =>  My father's death is a blow, but at least he didn't suffer a lot at the end.  And he was just short of his 92nd birthday, so one has to concede that he led a long, full life—and quite a richly interesting and productive life, too.  We didn't agree about everything (in fact, when I was younger, there were substantial periods when we didn't agree about anything, serious or trivial—not an uncommon pattern in Jewish father-son relations). But he was an admirable, impressive, and profoundly decent man in both his personal relations and his politics, and I think that (despite everything) I learned a lot from him.

Memorial announcements, with brief obituaries, have been posted on-line by two institutions where my father worked after leaving the Foreign Service, the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in Austin, where he was the Dean Rusk Professor of economics and public policy, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC, where he held the Simon Chair in Political Economy.  (He had to retire from the latter when he began to get Alzheimer's three years ago.)  I've put those two items, as well as a few others, on a memorial website for my father ... which is here, for anyone who might be interested.

Sidney Weintraub (1922-2014)

Jeff Weintraub