We are in deep mourning here at Casa Stein. Here is why.
In 1965, my future wife, Alexandra (who was then a mere slip of a single girl) began school at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York. She had as her roommate a wonderful, smart, funny girl named Linda Alice Fairstein. Linda was the daughter of a physician and a former nurse and she was from Mount Vernon, New York, a stone’s throw from Poughkeepsie. Linda’s home became Alex’s home.
Alex and Linda hit it off immediately. They became what turned out to be lifelong best friends. When I began my courtship of Alex in 1966, I immediately got to be friends with Linda and became her friend, too. Linda’s mother, Bobbie, helped Alex pick out her wedding dress.
Linda graduated with distinction from Vassar (she is now a Trustee), then attended U. Va. Law School, where she also graduated with distinction. (We also love U. Va., because my pal Billy Farhood went there and because my father was a chaired professor there for many years.)
She became a prosecuting attorney in New York City and soon rose to be head of the Sex Crimes Prosecution division of the District Attorney’s office. There, too, she covered herself with glory, prosecuting high profile cases like “The Preppie Murder” case and — far more important — declining to prosecute cases that were clearly not real crimes of sexual violence, but the settling of grudges and misplaced anger by various pseudo-victims.
About 25 years ago, Linda married an extremely well-known and successful lawyer in New York City named Justin Feldman. He died a few days ago, full of years, love, and distinction, and that’s why we are in mourning.
Justin was from a modest family background. At his and Linda’s wedding, he made a great joke. “I told her my father was a shoemaker,” he said. “She assumed he was Salvatore Ferragamo, but he wasn’t.” By sheer brilliance and hard work, he had gone to Columbia College (my alma mater for under-grad and. for my money, the best education on the planet) and then to Columbia Law School. He had served in the Judge Advocate General’s office in the Army for three years and then had gone into private practice in Manhattan, where he distinguished himself by his intelligence, devotion to justice, and hard work.
He rapidly entered Democratic politics in New York City and there, too, distinguished himself by his devotion to helping the little guy, his refusal to go along with pink or red causes, and his deep love of New York City. If you want to read about the various groups he worked for and with, go to his obit at the New York Times. It’s impressive.
He bought a home on the Democratic City-State island of Martha’s Vineyard and fell in love with the place. He made friends with the people there and loved it the way I love Sandpoint.
I met him just before he married Linda, and he made a cutting comment that was so sharp, and yet so filled with understanding of the human condition, that it haunts me day by day. I had brought with me to the dinner a fellow who was engaged in all kinds of enterprises to make himself rich beyond avarice, each one more fantastical than the one before. My friend then asked Justin what he did for a living. Justin answered very confidently, “Well, I’m just a lawyer and if Mr. Cohen decides to sue Mr. Goldberg, one of them calls me.”
My pal with the big ideas (who is probably the nicest guy on the planet) has been through bankruptcy and is being smashed by the downturn. Justin, self-effacing Justin, lived and died well-to-do.
Justin and I often teased each other about our political bents — his to the left, mine a full-on conservative — but it was always with affection. He had a sort of self-confidence that went way beyond teasing, that said, “Life is full of differences. It’s life. Get used to it.”
He and I differed quite sharply about restaurants in New York, but again, his differences were well mannered.
That’s not really the main thing about Justin. The main things is how devoted and loving he was to our beloved Linda. He revolutionized her life. With his (again) self-confidence behind her, she entered a career as a writer of detective stories which has become a major, stellar best-selling career. She became a major commentator on legal issues.
Most of all, she became a happier person, as we all do when we are loved. Inside Justin’s “tough as old boots” New York trial lawyer exterior was a beating heart of love for our beloved Linda. His devotion and loyalty to her were beyond question. She was already a major figure in New York City before they married, but Justin’s love made her a far, far happier human being.
Justin was considerably older than Linda. His health was fragile for the last several years. He still loved Linda with all of the enthusiasm of a young man. He was housebound for almost two years before he passed this past week. Still he always waited for her at home with a big smile, she reported, and wanted to hear all of the news of her day.
He was in extremely delicate shape this spring, but he had himself and Linda driven to Martha’s Vineyard in an ambulance so he could be in the place he loved before he left this earth for just one more summer.
The great and the mighty among Democrat politics, President and potentates, came to visit him on Martha’s Vineyard, but he mostly saved his strength for Linda.
Then they came back to New York, and last week, he slept away, with Linda at his side. Although Justin and I probably agreed on very little about politics, he inspired me with his strength and devotion to our Linda. This, far beyond all of his political, legal, and administrative distinctions, is what made him a great man.
I hope he is floating above Linda right now, and floating above Martha’s Vineyard when she goes back next summer. He was a force of nature, like a hurricane or a mountain, and I don’t believe he’s really gone.
Isaac Singer once was asked how he dealt with all of his friends from Poland who had died in the Holocaust. He answered simply, “There are no dead.” Not as long as he is in Linda’s heart. That’s for sure.