We’re here today to mourn the passing but also to honor the life of Lester Margolis, beloved husband, brother, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and cherished friend. Les has gone through so much, for so long. So many medical crises; so many hospitalizations. Considering the fact that he had a heart attack in his forties and always thought he was living on borrowed time, and that he lived till 92-1/2…. it’s amazing, and a tribute to him, to Bernice, and to his incredible children and grandchildren and support system. If at 45, someone had told him that he was going to live till 92-1/2, he would have said: ‘I don’t believe it but where do I sign?’ So as sad as this is, and it is very sad, we’re thinking now not about this last stage of his life, not about the tough times, but about a wonderful life filled with love and hard work and giving to others.
Les was born in New Haven in the home of his grandparents, Aaron and Blanch.
He was raised with his brother Alan and they would remain close, even living a one floor elevator ride away from each other recently. Our sincere condolences go to Alan and his wife Mae today and we thank them for their closeness.
He went to Troop and Hillhouse, which he graduated in 1944. He went into the Navy and served on an ammunition ship. He was the Signal Man. The joke was that he couldn’t swim; he had to have someone else take the swim test for him. He served in the Pacific for two years. At the end of the war, the captain gave him the flag from the ship.
He went to the Junior College of Commerce for two years and then went to NYU where he graduated in 1950.
He met Bernice in New Haven. They went out on a double date – but they were not each other’s date. The rest is history. He married Bernice in 1947. They moved back here to New Haven. He interviewed with G. Fox but he didn’t take the job because he would have had to wear a uniform and he didn’t want to wear another uniform after the war.
Destiny or Fate or G-d had him take a train and meet people who quickly got what a personality and a natural talent he was. While he had a background in accounting, he didn’t know insurance. But that meeting on the train led to his career in insurance.
Within a few years, he was a Life insurance agent for Postal Life and then worked with George Greenberg at Greenberg Rhein.
George, who passed away recently and who was a very good man, went to Arizona for his health. George told me the story of how Les was beyond honorable and beyond fair in the way he continued to pay George. He sacrificed his own income to reward George for his role.
It was hard at that time to be Jewish in the insurance industry. But Les’s integrity and honesty were his calling cards in a tough environment.
Eventually he bought George out and ran the agency for decades, bringing in David who learned a lot from his father. David took a larger and larger role until he bought his father out in 1991. Les once told me what it meant to him that he had built up this agency and that it stayed in the family with David. For anyone who has ever built something, passing it down to a child is the greatest reward there is.
Les and Bernice. Again, they were married in 1947. Do the math; they were married for 71 years. They built an incredible, close, integrated, beautiful family. It was a great marriage, but Les was Les and he had his opinions about everything and some of those opinions were a little old-fashioned and chauvinistic. Bernice worked in the agency but she was underpaid and put in a back office. He did not want Bernice to drive but when she learned to drive and got her license anyway, he bought her a Studebaker.
But the most important thing you should know is that everyone in this world should have a spouse like Bernice. I know a lot of people and a lot about their relationships and their marriages. But of all the spouses I know about, no one ranks above Bernice who was the most patient, understanding, supportive spouse ever. She knew what Les needed even when he had no idea what he needed. When he needed gentleness, she gave him that; when he needed firmness, she had just the right touch. Les would not have had any part of his wonderful life without her.
Most of the people here know one or more of their children. And if you know Lauren or Debbie or David, you know how close these three people are and how loyal they have been to their parents. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen siblings who are so cohesive. How remarkable that all three stayed local and were all so integral to their parents’ lives and to each other’s lives. His kids’ friends always loved him and trusted him; they could talk to him when they could not talk to their own parents. They’d sit around the table with him, talking for hours.
His children had a wonderful father. He asked probing questions and then really listened. If something troubled you, he would let you talk till he found out what was really bothering you. And when you finally cried, he would say: “Do you feel better? I do.”
He was a telephone person; you could talk with him for a very long time.
He was very involved in the lives of all sorts of people. He was genuinely engaged with people. He touched the lives of so many people.
If he was in a room, you knew it. He was a big man and his presence filled the space. He had his own kind of Charisma.
I know we have an expression, “he would give you the shirt off his back.” But Les once literally gave someone a coat off his back. He was always helping people. Tzedakah is usually translated as “charity,” but it comes from the same root as Tzedek, which really means doing the right thing. He didn’t give tzedakah because it was charity but because it was simply the right thing for him to do for those who did not have what he had. He took people to doctors’ appointments.
Les was a very proud, deeply Jewish person who was instrumental in raising and perpetuating this wonderful Jewish family.
He always had a lot to talk about, and he knew what he was talking about. For example, he was a very knowledgeable Baseball fan. There was no question that he couldn’t answer.
If you knew Les, you knew that he would get very excited about certain things but he did not always follow through. He bought a guitar and took one lesson. He was gung ho about making pizza and made it once.
Debbie told me that her dad was born with a caul. I’d never heard of a caul, so I called one of my best friends who is a renowned neonatologist, and he had never seen a baby with a caul. So he checked and it turns out that less than one baby in 80,000 is born with a caul, which is a piece of the amniotic sac that is still attached to the baby’s head or face. Since it is so rare, lots of beliefs have arisen about such a birth. Debbie thinks that it explains his blessed life, his great intuition when it came to his kids/family. For example, he “knew” when she went into labor with Kate – felt it at exactly the time her water broke. So I asked my friend the doctor what he thought and he asked me about Lester and I told him about his life and my doctor friend said, “You have my blessing to go with it.” I’m still not sure, but I do know that Les had a lot of blessings in his life, starting with Bernice and their children and their families, Lauren and Bill, Debbie and Rick, and David and Jill. He was proud and then he was proud.
He loved his grandchildren liked he loved his life.
And Jeanie were all very dear to him.
I am not sure he ever got over Sam’s passing.
He adored each one of his grandchildren and he knew every single thing that was going on with each of them. Even as he declined, their current events were his current events.
And he was so thrilled with all of his great-grandchildren
He was a wise and strong Patriarch, but he was also just plain delighted and excited and amazed that he and Bernice had built this incredible, close, huge, thriving family.
And so to Bernice and Lauren and Debbie and David and the whole family, we wish you G-d’s comfort at this sad time. Your greatest comfort is that everyone did right by him and he did right by all of you. He was a righteous man. May he rest in peace. Let us say Amen.