Edith Packer Reisman
October 27, 1924 ~ February 04, 2018
Resided in: Laguna Hills, CA
Edith Packer, J.D., PhD. was born on Oct. 27, 1924 and passed away on Feb. 4, 2018. She leaves behind a husband, George Reisman, a daughter, Adrienne Packer, and two grandsons, William Packer and Daniel Salmieri. A Holocaust survivor, she lost both parents and an older brother in 1944, when the Holocaust came to Hungary.
Edith requested that contributions in her memory be donated to St Jude’s Hospital for Children.
Eulogy for My Wife Edith Packer
Delivered at the O’Connor Mortuary in Laguna Hills, California on February 9th 2018
As I’m sure you all know, Edith was an extremely talented and unusual woman. She earned a J.D. degree in law and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. She was in practice as a psychologist and psychotherapist for 48 years, and through her knowledge and therapeutic techniques greatly improved the lives of most of her patients, in many cases dramatically. She continually sought to inspire her patients to become the best and most accomplished people they could be. Again and again, her practice resulted in young people who came to her riddled with psychological problems and stuck in a seemingly hopeless life, finding the courage to do what was necessary to break free and go on to successful careers and successful relationships and to far more satisfaction and happiness in life than would have been possible without her.
She was also an author and lecturer. She wrote nine pamphlets, which were the result of lectures she delivered for the Jefferson School in the 1980s and 1990s. (I invite you all to take a copy of each of them, and of her interview with Jerry Kirkpatrick, with my compliments. They’re on a table somewhere in this room. And they’ve all been put together as an Amazon.com Kindle book under the title Lectures on Psychology: A Guide to Understanding Your Emotions. To find it, just search Amazon in the section Kindle books and then under the name Edith Packer.)
Edith was born on October 27, 1924. At this point, I don’t think she can hold it against me for revealing her age. So when she died this last Sunday she was over 93 years old. I had always expected her, and ardently desired her, to live to be at least 105. The fact that she didn’t, has devastated me. For over 48 years her presence filled my life, and now it’s simply gone. I feel a great void.
It’s somewhat unusual for someone to live to be 93. What is truly unusual, indeed, amazing, is that Edith was still in practice as recently as a few days before this last Christmas. Her practice was small—about seven or eight patients a week—but it still existed. And she was still very sharp. In her prime, she often saw seven, or even eight, patients in a day.
Edith was born in a small city called Ushorod. According to her passport, Edith was born in the Ukraine. Actually, she was born in what was then the eastern-most province of Czechoslovakia, called Carpatho-Russia. The Munich Pact in 1938, when Edith was 14, gave that province to Hungary, which held it until 1945, when it became part of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union made it part of the Ukraine, which was it’s second-most important territory.
From 1920 until April of 1944, Hungary was ruled by a Regent, Admiral Horthy, whose administration could generally be compared to that of Mussolini in Italy. From 1938 to early 1944, Jews could still live in Hungary, but only in an increasingly oppressive environment. They were banned from practicing various professions; Jewish students had to sit in the back of the classroom. Edith, who had been elected president of her class in Gymnasium, was removed from that position because she was Jewish. Toward the end of the period, Jews were compelled to wear yellow stars of David on their clothing. Young Jewish men were drafted into labor battalions, where many of them died, including one of her older brothers, who had been a lawyer and who had been prohibited from practicing his profession. In April of 1944 the conditions of Jews changed from bad to horrible: the Holocaust came to Hungary. Under the direction of Adolf Eichmann, the Hungarian government began rounding up the Jews for deportation to concentration camps and death.
At the age of 19, Edith saw the death camps coming. She urged her parents and the rest of her family to flee. She kept hammering at them with the question of how would the Germans feed them? Why would they feed them? Her family, particularly her parents, had the opportunity to flee. But they chose to stay, stuck like deer in the headlights of an oncoming truck. According to Edith, her mother stayed because she couldn’t bear to give up such things as the familiarity of her home, and her father stayed because he was the leader of the Jews in Carpatho-Russia and believed that leaving would be a betrayal of his fellow Jews.
But Edith fled. And despite his own choice to stay, her father supported Edith’s decision for herself and had a special pair of shoes made for her, which contained a supply of gold coins and diamonds, so that she would not suffer want during her flight. She also found help from a Hungarian senator, who provided her with false papers. This senator became her first husband, and the father of her first child, Eva.
Eva was the mother of a member of our audience: Daniel Salmieri, who is now a New York Times best-selling illustrator and author of children’s books. Will Daniel, Edith’s grandson, please wave or stand up, to let people see you? Eva was also a graduate of Hunter College summa cum laude, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and a Woodrow Wilson Scholar. She attended graduate school at Columbia University, and was employed as a freelance editor at several major publishing houses. To Edith’s great sorrow, Eva died of cancer in 1990. Her husband, Robert, was and is a successful artist and designer.
Edith, being blonde and blue-eyed and with false papers was able to avoid being identified as a Jew and succeeded in saving her life. She hid out for the remainder of the war first in Budapest and then across the border in Romania. But she felt guilty about having left her parents. I thought she had overcome the guilt many years ago, but it came back in her final days. I say that any guilt should have belonged to them, not to her. It was they who did wrong in refusing to leave, in refusing not just at the last minute, when it really was too late for them, since, not being blonde and blue eyed, they could easily have been identified as Jews, but much earlier, when the facts were already clear and they chose to ignore them. Edith, did absolutely right in leaving and thus living, not dying.
When I first met Edith in 1969, I learned of her escape from the Nazis and of her experiences. Listening to her and looking at her—she was really very beautiful—I felt like I was in an adventure movie, in the presence of a beautiful heroine, who was radiating waves of courage and daring. That’s when I started to fall in love with her.
Sometimes people ask where I first met Edith. I met her in Ayn Rand’s living room. We were both students in a series of lectures Ayn Rand was giving on non-fiction writing.
I’ve mentioned that Edith was born in a small city called Ushorod. It was quite a journey from Ushorod to Ayn Rand’s living room. Escaping from the Nazis was an essential part of it, but not the only part. The journey began years before, when she was a little girl, and continued for years afterwards. A major signpost appeared in Edith’s childhood, showing the direction in which she was travelling. Her mother gave her a very fancy, deluxe baby carriage. Edith rejected the baby carriage and never played with it. She thought it was stupid.
To Edith then, and to me now, and, I believe, to anyone who seriously considers the matter, toy baby carriages, dolls, and most other toys for little girls are nothing more than early job-training tools for what traditionally has been assumed to be the future career of little girls, when they grow up and become women. That career is supposed to be motherhood, to the exclusion of practically everything else. Edith would have none of that.
She believed from the very beginning that she was a full-fledged person, or destined to become a full-fledged person when she grew up, not just a baby-making auxiliary to a full-fledged person, traditionally believed to be only men. Even as a very young child, she possessed profound, deep-seated independent judgment and believed that she was capable of doing or becoming anything she wanted to. She always had the strength to stand up and fight for whatever she believed in.
One of my favorite examples of her independence and confidence was the fact that as a child of about ten, she would march to the dressmaker’s, select materials, and order her own dresses.
Qualities like this, almost always associated with men, rather than women, led her father one day to say, with great pride, that Edith was his only son. (This was the same sentiment that von Mises expressed about Ayn Rand when he said “Ayn Rand is the only man in America,” after the publication of her article “Big Business: America’s Persecuted Minority.”) Statements like this don’t mean that one thinks a woman is a man but only that she has the intellect and character values usually associated only with men.
In her childhood, Edith decided at one point that she wanted to be a lawyer when she grew up. Her mother told her that “women are not lawyers.” But Edith personally knew a woman who lived nearby and who was, in fact, a lawyer. After that, she adopted the same kind of attitude toward her mother that years later, President Reagan adopted toward Gorbachev: “Trust but verify,” which actually meant “verify before accepting or believing.” This was a major reinforcement of Edith’s independence. It taught her that she always needed to think and judge for herself.
Edith became an American citizen on May 7, 1951. The name on her citizenship document is Edith Packer. She and her first husband had divorced and she had married her second husband Max Packer, who was a physician in New York City. She and Max had two children: Adrienne, who is an attorney, and Steven, who was a successful businessman but unfortunately died in 1996. Adrienne is here tonight. I hope she’ll wave to you, so that you can see her if you don’t recognize her. And Adrienne’s son, William, Edith’s grandson, is also here tonight. Will is currently enrolled in the joint MBA/MPA programs at the Wharton School and Harvard University. Until entering that program, he was the Director of Educational Technology at a network of twenty schools named Democracy Prep Public Schools. Please wave or stand up, Will.
Edith was an ardent believer in education. Even in her flight from the Nazis, she still managed to carry with her a copy of her transcript from the Gymnasium from which she had graduated. Now, settled in the United States, Edith decided to go back to school. She enrolled at Hunter College in New York City, and graduated as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She then decided to go to law school. She was accepted at Fordham University School of Law, which is a well-respected Roman Catholic institution. But she wanted to go to the NYU School of Law. Even though her grades at Hunter had been outstanding, she was initially rejected by NYU because she had not done sufficiently well on the multiple choice questions on the entrance exam. She called the Dean of the school and challenged her rejection. She got him to change his mind and was admitted. At NYU her class was divided into two sections, in each of which there was one woman and 99 or 100 men.
Even though, within a few years, after working both for a law firm and then in private practice, she came to dislike the practice of law, largely because of the corruption that prevailed in the New York City justice system, she always believed in the value of studying law. Again and again, she said how much it had improved her ability to think, and implied that it should be a part of everyone’s education.
When Edith’s husband Max made house calls, Edith sometimes went with him. On one such occasion, a woman she had come to know somewhat, offered her a book to read, while Max was busy with his patient. The woman said she thought Edith would like it. The book was Atlas Shrugged. Edith loved it. Max’s reaction was that there would now be “no way of holding her.”
She and Max became part of the Objectivist “scene,” so to speak. Alan Blumenthal, an MD and a first cousin of Nathaniel Branden, then Ayn Rand’s designated “intellectual heir,” was conducting a series of workshops on psychology and psychotherapy for physicians. Max enrolled. The physicians were allowed to bring their wives. Edith came with him. She was fascinated.
In the workshops the physicians were often given the opportunity to perform psychological diagnoses and to hold mock therapy sessions. Edith was invited to participate. She performed better than the physicians. Alan Blumenthal was so impressed with her that he urged her to go into the field of psychology, which she did. She earned a master’s degree in personality theory at NYU. She gained hands-on experience by working for a year or more at New York’s Bellevue Hospital, widely regarded as the leading psychiatric hospital in the world. Then, with patients referred by Dr. Blumenthal, she entered private practice in 1969. In the same year, Edith and Max divorced.
In 1979 Edith obtained her doctorate from Florida Institute of Technology. But a substantial number of her classes were held in Switzerland, where we spent two of the most beautiful summers of our lives. We would wake up in the morning and see beautiful hills and mountains, and across the street a few cows with cowbells on.
I moved into Edith’s apartment in October of 1973. We married on November 19, 1978. In all the years thereafter, we always celebrated two anniversaries: not only our wedding anniversary but also the anniversary of our first-date, which was on September 13, 1969.
As I’ve said, Edith’s passing has left a great void in me. And my knowledge and commitment to reality and rationality have only made it worse. I know that Edith no longer exists as any kind of actual being. All that physically remains of her is a small pile of ashes. She no longer has eyes and so she cannot see me. She no longer has ears and so she cannot hear me. There just is no longer any “she.” But nevertheless, I pretend that in some way, she still exists and that she can still see and hear me, and so I still talk to her every day. And when I’m alone, out of anyone else’s hearing, I talk to her out loud. So I now need Edith more than ever—as my psychotherapist, in addition to everything else.
But you know what. Until just this last Sunday, I did talk to Edith out loud, in reality, practically every day, for almost half a century. And so it feels much more normal to go on talking to her, even if only in pretense, than to slam into the brick wall of the fact that she simply is no more. So what I think I’m doing is trying to tap the brakes gently, so to speak, and come to a smooth stop, if that’s possible. I don’t think that’s actually unreasonable.
I want you to know that the beautiful music you’ll hear before this service concludes was chosen by Edith herself. Many times over the years, she told me that her favorite opera was La Traviata and that I must be sure to play it at her funeral. The final aria in the opera, the death scene, certainly expresses the way I feel and have been feeling since Sunday morning, when she died.
I want to thank a number of people who’ve contributed to this service: Bob and Bita Klein, friends of Edith for many years, for preparing brief audio excerpts from a few of her lectures. Monique Vallier, who was Edith’s principal health aide for the last two years and who has helped to organize the service. Dr. Linda Reardan, who also participated in preparing the service and who will be a speaker in the program. Linda was a close friend of Edith’s for many years, and was designated in Edith’s Advanced Healthcare Directive to be in charge if Adrienne and I were unable to be. And Linda’s husband, Dr. Jerry Kirkpatrick, a friend of Edith’s since her days in New York, and who will now take charge of the remainder of this service, first, by expressing his own memories of Edith; next by introducing the remaining designated speakers, and then by recognizing whoever else is here who has known Edith and wishes to make some brief comments about her.
Jerry, please take over.
Memorial Service: February 9, 2018 7:00 pm
25301 Alicia Parkway
Laguna Hills, CA 92653