Dr. J. Lawrence (Larry) Tanenbaum – Yehuda Leib ben Shevach ve-Yetta – 2019

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We’re here today to mourn the passing but also to honor and cherish the life of Dr. J. Lawrence Tanenbaum.

Larry never feared death. After he hit 80 over ten years ago, he said, “This is all gravy.” And so he died in his beautiful home where he lived with Diane’s love all around him, in his sleep, at 90 ½, the way I wish we all could go. Peaceful. Content.

But we don’t want to dwell on his death. We want to focus on his remarkable life and on the kind of person that he was.

With Larry, what you saw was what you got. There was no pretense; he never pretended to be something he wasn’t. But why should he have pretended to be something or someone else? What he was / was great. He accomplished more than all the big talkers.

He was a sincere human being.

He was a 100% genuine human being.

So let’s try to understand what made Larry this kind of person. A lot of it goes back to Brooklyn, to his parents and the family in which he was raised. He was the son of Dr. Harry and Jeannette Tanenbaum. He was raised with his sister Ruth whom we remember with respect today. Larry came from a solid family with a lot of love. He would say, “I wouldn’t have changed a thing about my childhood.” And in a way, he never changed. Others needed to drive a Mercedes Benz; he was happy with a Toyota 4runner. He did not have a pompous bone in his body.

Do you want to understand what made Larry who he was? His mother won a lot of awards for volunteerism. If you know anything about Larry, you know he won walls full of awards for volunteerism and his many community service activities. He won the Probus National Man of the Year Award, the B’nai Brith President’s Award and the William A. Adams Citizen of the Year Award.  He received the Jefferson Award by the American Institute for Public Service in Washington, D.C.

Larry helped to found Hart. The first group home in Connecticut, Lawrence Hall, was named for Dr. Lawrence Tanenbaum.

A lot of people are flashes in the pan; they do good things for a while, they win an award and then they disappear. Larry’s record is of sustained activity over many years. Over the years, he worked and worked and worked on behalf of individuals with disabilities, the elderly, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and the Jewish community.  

Now let’s think about his career. We all know that he was a renowned dentist in this area for over fifty years and was beloved by his patients, only retiring because Diane made him retire at 80. So where did that career and that work ethic come from?

It came from his father. Here’s a great story about his father. Dr. Harry Tanenbaum was a dentist for many years in Brooklyn but when he got older, he came up here to Connecticut where he lived with Larry and Diane and then lived in the Jewish Home for the Aged. And one day, one of the other residents had a toothache and he knew that Harry used to be a dentist. So he asked Harry to help and Harry readily agreed to take him to his office, which, just so you don’t miss the point, no longer existed and had been in Brooklyn anyway. And the two of them are walking out of the Home when they’re stopped by an aide who wants to know “where exactly they think they’re going.” And Harry snaps: “Are you trying to stop me from making a living?”

I’m telling you the story not only because I think it’s precious, but because it shows where Larry came from. Being a dentist was part of his father’s being, and it was part of Larry’s core identity. He was a healer. Everyone here has had dental pain. We all know what it is to be relieved of that pain and be able to function normally. How can we count all of the people that Larry helped in over a half a century of dentistry? How can we measure all the pain he relieved, and all the health that he brought to so many people?

And just for the record, he practiced what he preached and he had the mouth to prove it. He put his mouth where his mouth was. At 90 ½, every tooth was still in his mouth; he never lost one.

He was never in a rush professionally. No patient was more important than any other patient.
He was devoted and loyal to his employees and they were devoted and loyal to him. I want to mention Marilyn Ritchie and Barbara Bordeau. And I want to remember Irene Greenberg, who I personally miss a lot.

Larry did so much. He served as a Captain in the United States Air Force. He was a clinical instructor at Yale University Medical School.  

Now let’s talk about Larry and family. He married Edie and they had their four wonderful daughters Lisa, Lorrie, Betsy and Missy.

His relationship with Diane over 32 years was very special. They were connected spiritually, deeply, in their souls. They complemented each other. They would go to all their respective events together. She would stare into his eyes that were as deep as the ocean. She took such wonderful, devoted care of him in these last stages. And all the way to the end, he threw her a kiss ten times a day.

They were a united front in raising children. Sharra and Marcus became his wonderful children. We remember Marcus with love and affection today.

He was the loving father of Lori, Lisa and Rick, Betsy and Ed, Missy and Steven, and Sharra and Roy.

He was blessed with ten grandchildren and three great grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.  

Traveling for him was traveling to see the different kids and their families.

Did he have any faults or flaws or weaknesses?

It depends what you call a fault.

Some people say that his jokes went on too long, but I don’t think any joke can go on too long.

He liked what he liked; he liked black coffee with two ice cubes, not three.
Some people say that he had a weakness in that he hated big crowds and noise, but a lot of us feel the same way.

Would he get into debates with people over politics or religion? Yes, but, and this is important, it was never personal. In our divided society, we need people who can disagree without getting at each other.

He was a steadfast person; he never wavered from what he believed. But he respected the beliefs of others.

He was a kind of spontaneous, natural medic. He would chase muggers. He carried people to shelters.
He was deliberate; he was careful; he wanted everything to slow down. He never got a speeding ticket in his life.
Most of all, he was happy in himself, content in his own skin. 
He was grateful for everything he had. 
He was never jealous.

Even towards the end, when he was asked: Are you comfortable? He would give the classic Jewish line: I make a living.

But we know better: He didn’t just make a living; he made a great life.

Larry will be remembered as the genuine article, an authentic human being, a Gute neshama, a good soul.

To his children and grandchildren, we offer our sincere condolences at this difficult time.

And to Diane, who has been with him through good times and sad times, we pray that you will find comfort in the words and memories of others who cherished him. But we know that for you, every minute and every day will now be different. If you could have taken care of him for another ten years, you would have agreed instantly. But this wasn’t to be. But you will go on, somehow, continuing to do your own meaningful work, and knowing that you had the very best by your side for a lot of wonderful years.

Larry was a righteous person and a good guy. May he rest in peace. Let us say Amen