When I come to the independent living residence where my dad lives, one of the main people I always look forward to visiting has been the wonderful Sidney Kraus. He had a serious operation the other day, and seemed to come out of it okay, but then had a major setback and unfortunately passed away on Saturday.
Sidney was an absolutely great guy. Funny, with an outgoing and sometimes sardonic sense of humor, friendly, sharp, an avid reader of usually several books at the same time (for reasons even he couldn't quite explain), a lover of theater (having trained at the Goodman Theater), vibrantly liberal, blunt, polite, an intensely proud Navy veteran of WWII, a lover of chess (he went to amazing lengths to find someone to play with, diving into the local community center and finally organizing the residence's Chess Club, becoming its president -- a position he would regularly trade with the club's only other member...), and a goofy manner that covered how really smart he was. It wasn't for a long while after meeting him a few years back until I found out that he was a former college professor, had a PhD and was one of the country's scholarly experts on presidential debates, having written or edited several books on the subject, including The Great Debates: Kennedy vs. Nixon, 1960, and Televised Presidential Debates and Public Policy. When I learned this, I offhandedly mentioned being friends with Nell Minow, whose father Newton was a friend of my dad's and one of the central figures in setting up that first televised debate with Kennedy and Nixon. "Oh, I know Newt," he said. And indeed it turned out that their work crossed paths.
I'm so glad I took the time to visit him a couple of times in the Care Center when I was here on this trip. I only expected to stop by for brief visits, but ended up staying close to two hours each time. (Hey, I did say he was a great guy -- it was such a pleasure talking with him.) And his wife Cecile is as much a treat, who after so many years of marriage knew when to let Sid be Sid and simply let his outgoing humor just slide off her back with a bleary shake of her head and a knowing roll of her eyes. (Oddly, though he was so funny, he only really knew one joke, which he apparently told with great relish whenever prompted for probably 30-40 years. Watching Cecile's patient and loving weariness at hearing him tell it...again...and again was a joy.)
The last time I saw Sidney, I said I looked forward to seeing him when he got back. He quipped that he hoped he did, though it was clear he wasn't just making a joke. I wish he was. He was such a good guy.
Here's a video of Sidney on C-SPAN. I hoped to embed it, but they only provide a link. It's from a December 5, 1989 conference titled, “What Can be Done to Improve the Presidential Debates the Next Time Around?” (A bonus treat is that at the 3:28 mark, you then get to see one of the panelists, Newton Minow.) But Sidney is the first person you see, speaking from the audience for about a minute-and-a-half. And even at such a serious event, he gets a laugh. And that's a perfect combination of Sidney. You can watch the six-minute clip here.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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