Last night I attended a memorial service for my friend and neighbor, civic activist Ed Schwartz at the Constitution Center last night. The Center was filled with Philadelphians from all works of life who had come to pay tribute to this remarkable man.
Ed had a major impact on local government and civic life in Philadelphia as a city Councilman, head of the office of Housing and Community Development and Founder of the non-profit, the Institute for the Study of Civic Values. As a friend once said of him, he produces more ideas per minute than anyone I know. When I taught a service learning course at Community College of Philadelphia he was one of my regular guest speakers and always willing to share his ideas and expertise with my students. Over the years quite a few of my students volunteered at the Institute and parlayed that experience into o a career in non-profits.
I loved talking to him about local politics. For many years he lived in the East Mt. Airy division where I serve as a committeeperson and I always looked forward to talking to him on Election Day. We agreed on issues and core values but often disagreed as to which candidate could best advance those values. I remember a few shouting matches on Election Day about a particular mayoral candidate about whom we strongly disagreed. But whatever the discussion, I always came away from the conversation with a new idea or new perspective.
When he moved--like a typical Philadelphian he moved just a few blocks away--he was in a different voting division and I missed those Election Day conversations. A few years later, I learned to my shock that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. This was really hard to take in—someone with his mind, his ability to think, to write, to argue, to engage with the world—losing that ability to engage.
Luckily for Ed, the strong support network provided by his wife Jane arrested the progress of the disease and by all reports in the last year of his life he was getting better--raising some questions about the diagnosis. At our New Year’s party last year I had a conversation with him about local politics and he was clearly keeping up with the political landscape. The last time I saw him was at his daughter Ruth’s graduation party last May and he was obviously very proud of her and enjoying the party. He may not have been his old self, but he certainly did not seem like someone suffering from Alzheimer’s.
His wife Jane reported that he was attending city council sessions regularly and was playing again with a group of friends who had formed a band, the Reading Terminals. (Among his many accomplishments he was a very good pianist.) It looked like Ed was beginning to regain a life, maybe not the old one, but a meaningful life nonetheless. On November 29, he died of a heart attack. Sadly, just as he appeared to be regaining his life, he lost it. But it was clear from the testimony last night that his legacy lives.