‘She brightened everything’

‘She brightened everything’

The poet William Blake wrote, "He whose face gives no light shall never become a star."

Muriel Friedland lit up this office with her radiance.

Our office manager for 1′ years, Muriel answered the phones, routed messages, repaired the copier and fax machine, and kept us in supplies and smiles and laughter.

We felt privileged to know her, and wanted to share our thoughts about her with our readers.

Our publisher, James Janoff, recalled Muriel’s job interview: "Half-way through our conversation, she said, ‘Enough questions already, just hire me.’ A bit stunned by her reaction, I hired her anyway. I guess I liked her spunk. In retrospect, it was one of my better business decisions. Years later, I would learn that Muriel was afraid that no one would hire someone over 70 years old. You never really knew how old she was. For that matter, you really didn’t care. She had more energy than people half her age. Attend a party with Muriel and you had better be well rested. She could outdance Fred Astaire.

"She would arrive before anyone else, and was often the last to leave. Not even a snowstorm could stop her from her work. I would sometimes find her here on the weekends. ‘Of course I’m here; I never finished sending the invoices on Friday.’

"Even toward the end, she would go for chemo one day and be at work the next morning. After all, we’re talking about a woman who at 80 went mountain-climbing and jet-skiing with her family during a trip to Mexico.

"Muriel loved life more than most people I know. She fought so hard to stay alive. ‘I’m not ready to go,’ she smiled. ‘Too many people love and need me.’

"We all loved and needed Muriel. She became our mentor, mother to all, and dear wise friend. She set the example in our office on how to live each day to its fullest, to treasure life, and to laugh as often as you could."

Marcia Garfinkle, associate publisher, said, "In my personal dictionary, Muriel’s shining, sweet face would be the illustration for joie de vivre."

Abigail Gary, special projects editor, echoed that thought, adding, "She fought cancer long and hard primarily, I think, because she didn’t want to leave the party so soon."

"And boy, did she love a good party," wrote Natalie Jay, advertising director, who called Muriel her "life coach." "In her final days, she mustered all her strength to join us at our yearly office Chanukah party" and even invited the whole crew to mark New Year’s Eve with her.

Peggy Elias, an account executive, added that "Muriel was so happy to be there [at the Chanukah party] — and it took everything she had in her to get there," in a wheelchair and with the help of a daughter and an aide.

Brenda Sutcliffe, an account executive, called Muriel "the coolest little old lady. She had the cutest face and the trendiest wardrobe and accessories for a woman of 80-plus.

"Muriel was especially proud when she became a great-grandmother for the first and then the second time. But she was equally proud to hear about my children’s successes."

Beth Chananie, guide/community editor, also noted Muriel’s pride in "her family and her office family; she was proud of everyone’s children’s accomplishments."

And "she was proud of her age — celebrating her 75th and 80th birthdays" with us.

Susie Leipzig, an account executive, noted that Muriel’s "was the first face I saw every morning as I walked through the doors of The Jewish Standard and the last smiling face I said goodbye to as I left for the day. I can still hear her voice whenever I phoned in to check my messages: Hello, love." (She called us all "love.") "What can I do for you?"

Muriel’s "zest for life was contagious — and inspiring," wrote Lois Goldrich, associate editor. "She was defined by love of family, coupled with genuine concern for and interest in others.

"We will all age, and some of us will be forced to confront a serious illness. Muriel provided us with a model of dignity and grace. Stay busy, she said. Don’t dwell on the bad stuff. Love life. Love others."

To Jerry Szubin, our production manager, Muriel was "a feisty and endearing dynamo. She was also," he wrote, "the ‘keeper of knowledge’ who knew exactly where to find anything. She wore many hats, some unlikely ones that never ceased to astonish, like office copy machine repairer."

Carol Perchik, an account executive, distilled Muriel’s major teaching: "She was always looking at the glass as half full. If some issue disturbed you she would say, ‘Life is too short; just live each day and be happy.’"

Jane Rosen, a former managing editor who continues to write for the Standard, noted that "It’s hard to be consistently cheerful in a newspaper office," what with jangling phones and looming deadlines. Still, "I don’t recall ever seeing Muriel without a smile or hearing her utter a harsh word, even as around her temperatures rose."

Josh Lipowsky, assistant editor, wrote, "When I came to The Jewish Standard last year to interview, Muriel was the first person I met. No matter where she was, or what she was doing, she always had that same cheerfulness in her voice and in her eyes that just brightened your day. As the first and last person I usually saw in the office each day, she brightened everything that came in between."

Michele Papavasiliou, a free-lance graphic artist for the paper, noted that "all of us who knew Muriel felt as though we were part of her extended family. She was always ready to lend an ear or give advice when asked. She served as a surrogate mother to many of us. Muriel possessed an amazing ability to make each of us feel special."

Account executive Linda Karasick also saw Muriel as "a surrogate mother to all of us here at the Standard. She gave us advice — whether we wanted it or not. She shared in all of our simchas and gave us strength in times of sorrow. Even at the ‘young’ age of 80, Muriel would wear funky jewelry and travel around the world. Finally, she showed us tremendous courage and hope when her health was failing."

Muriel loved the theater, and account executive Howard Dean and his wife, Evelynne, got to know that side of her well when they drove her back to her Fort Lee apartment after a performance in New York City. "She was such a fun and delightful person," he wrote, "such a delight in our life."

Whether it was her boundless energy, her joy for life, or her mischievous giggle, her presence just gave everyone a lift.

"She helped us all in countless ways, from getting the fax to work (pull the plug and count to 10 when all else fails) to helping proof the classified pages. If she wasn’t there to greet me in the morning, I knew it was going to be a hard day."

Janice Rosen, classified director, felt "we were able to speak to each other about everything. Also, every time I came back from Florida there would be a plant on my desk from Muriel, to welcome me back. I admired her because she came to work at the age that she did and she worked so long and was so helpful."

Muriel’s helpfulness was also noted by George Kroll, an account executive, who added, "When I think of Muriel I recall a little lady with a big smile and a kind word for everyone."

Account executive Karen Nathanson wrote that she feels "so blessed to have had the opportunity to know Muriel. She was always happy, full of life, young at heart, energetic. She would never hurt anyone’s feelings or complain about anything. This was Muriel."

Alice Trost, our bookkeeper, called Muriel a "kind, loving, lively, interested, compassionate mensch."

Marion Raindorf, our credit manager, shared her feelings in a letter:

"Dear Muriel," she wrote, "we miss you so very much. We miss your indefeatable, irreverent, positive spirit in health and in illness. We miss your warmth and your caring. We miss the towels and coffee, the voice on the telephone, the ‘little’ things you provided for us all. We miss your stories, the pictures, the adventures with your family who so love and honor you. We will always miss you."

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