My parents died at 94 and 96, so I never expected my brother, Martin Mendel Seldon, to go at a younger age. He was 83 when he died on Dec. 28, after an unexpected, massive heart attack.
I was in Nova Scotia on a wonderful Christmas holiday with my daughter and her family when the news came. Assuming that his funeral service would be held very quickly, I skipped coming home, as we’d planned, and headed out the next day to Sunnyvale, Calif., where he had lived for years.
Marty was a wonderful man, whom I just didn’t see often enough. Nothing could have brought home the long absences between us more dramatically than his death. Six years older than me, and my only sibling, he didn’t get back East frequently after he and his young family moved to California in the mid-1950s. Cross-country trips were not commonplace for either of us.
More than 160 people attended his memorial service on Monday. In addition to kind words and prayers by the rabbi and cantor of Temple Emanuel in San Jose, and talks by members of the family, Marty was eulogized by friends and colleagues from diverse walks of life. All agreed that he was a person of substance who never stopped advocating for the things he believed in, who mentored others, and who remained modest despite his accomplishments.
It had been some years since he retired from a long career in a Silicon Valley electronics firm, but co-workers were at the service in force. Present and former Sunnyvale neighbors were well represented, as were the members of the temple and of a senior citizens social club. Perhaps most notable, however, were those members of the fly-fishing community among whom he was revered. That his peers expressed their grief and spoke of him with love was the finest testimony.
Marty was known internationally as a fly fisherman, in part because he created voluminous databases on fly-fishing resources, on the artists who tie flies and, separately, on everything imaginable about trout. He was an environmentalist who never stopped fighting to protect marine habitats. And, while he was at it, he also kept up-to-date records on his and his wife’s families.
When it came my turn to speak, something that should have been obvious hit me in a flash: I knew Marty longer than anyone else in the room. I concentrated on memories of him as a boy — playing in a brook and carrying a calf on our grandparents’ farm in the Catskills — and as a young man, fiddling around with radio tubes in the attic of our house. I told the story of the night during a Passover Seder in 1947 when Marty was in basic training at Fort Dix, N.J. He had been unable to get leave, but when it came time to open the door for Elijah, there was Marty, with a big, foolish grin.
I described how exciting it had been to be his little sister when he got out of the service and lived at home while attending Columbia University. He and his buddies hung out at our house, playing Ping-Pong and listening to jazz. I told the story of how he saved me from ever smoking by offering to teach me how with a two-month-old, long-open pack of Lucky Strikes.
I knew Marty as a dear, caring man, but I hadn’t known how many lives he touched and how appreciated and beloved he was.
He inherited the best characteristics of his forebears, and I trust his children and grandchildren will follow in his stead.