Edwin C. Nevis: A Remembrance - Gestalt International Study Center

Gestalt Review, 15(2):109-122, 2011
Edwin C. Nevis, Ph.D.
A Remembrance
J O S E PH M E L N I C K , PH . D .
I have written a great deal, but I have never written anything like this
remembrance, in which I try to capture the contributions to Gestalt therapy
of a friend and a colleague whom I have known for nearly 40 years. There is
so much I wish to say, and I want to get it right. I want to appreciate Edwin as
I knew him.
Joseph Melnick, Ph.D., is a clinical and organizational psychologist. He is
the founding editor of Gestalt Review, co-chair of the Cape Cod Training
Program, and a member of the board of the Gestalt International Study
Center. He has published extensively on a wide range of topics related to
the Gestalt approach. Most recently (2009) he, along with Edwin Nevis,
Ph.D., co-edited a book on a Gestalt approach to social change entitled,
Mending the World: Social Healing Interventions by Gestalt Practitioners
Worldwide. He teaches and trains throughout the world.
©2011 Gestalt Intl Study Center
edwin c. nevis - a remembrance
I will talk about Edwin in two different ways. The first is more personal;
the second more descriptive of his professional accomplishments and his
theoretical teachings.
These two ways of perceiving, understanding, and describing experience
reflect a core polarity that he discussed in his book Organizational Consulting
(1986). The first is the subjective, relational, artistic, mode; the second is the
more objective, structured and scientific. In order to describe Edwin, I think
it is important to present how he creatively defined these two approaches.
He referred to the first as the “Colombo model,” named after the popular
TV detective; and the second, the “Sherlock Holmes model.” Colombo was
rambling, slow moving, seemingly naïve, and unfocused in his perceptiveness;
he also appeared fuzzy, if not downright illogical. Colombo was always
moving between relationships almost randomly. He did not seem to know
where he was going from one moment to the next. In contrast, Sherlock
Holmes was the ideal reasoner, a careful and accurate observer, able to use
his mind to gather data and organize information and draw conclusions in an
unbiased way. His strengths are his logic and analytical reasoning. Holmes was
well organized, precise, knowing, superior in perception, and rational and
deductively oriented. Holmes was impersonal, while Colombo was personal,
and always relational (Nevis, 1987).
I was never quite able to figure out which was Edwin’s more dominant style.
In hindsight I realize that he was both, often alternating between the two
poles. This is much like the image of the old and young woman that vacillates
between the two figures; each face is sometimes figural and sometimes the
background. This was also true of Edwin’s Holmes and Colombo sides.
Getting to Know Him
My first contact with Edwin was as an instructor in a postgraduate training
program in Gestalt therapy in 1973. He served as both a lecturer and a process
group leader. To be honest, my first impressions did not immediately draw
me to him. He seemed too real, too transparent, too relational, much like
Colombo. There seemed to be little mystery about him, and little magic. In
those days I was looking for the “ah ha’s.”
I began to respect him when he took over our process group for a week. He
was able to engage group members in a way that his more “magical” peers
were not. His style was disarming. He had a way of joining people, of making
them feel safe, much like Colombo. But he also had Holmes’ ability to avoid
bias and organize data that was at times breathtaking.
Over the years as I got to know him I understood that his way of presenting
and teaching was well thought out. He wanted to make it easy for people to
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learn and he succeeded. His goal was to foster learning by breaking down the
material into chewable chunks. To borrow from his book, he valued the more
explicit stance of the sage / naturalist than the mysterious presence of the
guru / mystic (1987).
For many of the early years, my main connection was with his wife Sonia.
But over the last fifteen years or so, Edwin’s and my relationship grew closer.
I will talk more about this aspect throughout this remembrance. But for now,
let us start at the end – his memorial service.
Memorial Service
Edwin C. Nevis, Ph.D., died on his 85th birthday, 20 May 2011. Two weeks
later, a memorial service was held in South Wellfleet, Massachusetts, the home
of his beloved institute, the Gestalt International Study Center, which he and
his wife Sonia nurtured and developed for over 30 years. Not surprisingly,
the Center was filled with people from many of the diverse communities that
Edwin worked and lived in, and also nurtured.
The service was simple. The walls of the conference room were covered
with pictures of Edwin at various stages of his life, as well as of many people
with whom he was connected. There were also emails and poems sent from
all over the world.
The chairs were set up in an unusual configuration, lined up in very unGestalt like rows facing the woods at the back of the building. A microphone
rested on a chair, waiting for someone to speak.
The service began and ended with music. Edwin always loved music; loved
to listen to it, but especially to dance to. He had been taught to dance by his
older girl cousins while a young adolescent. They taught him well.
Many of us spoke about our experiences with Edwin. For some, they
had been few and fleeting while, for others, there had been many, often
spanning decades. I was touched by how common it was for people to have
had memorable experiences with Edwin that had made a difference in their
The Center was filled alternatively with laughter and tears – a type of back
and forth interaction that felt surprisingly comfortable. The service ended
with a Dixieland rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Edwin loved
We then had lunch and talked with each other. He would have been pleased.
I can think of very little that he appreciated more than good conversation
nourished by good food.
edwin c. nevis - a remembrance
Edwin was born in Brooklyn, New York, on 20 May 1926, the elder of two
boys. His father was first generation American, his mother second. His father
made a living delivering bakery goods to restaurants, and his mother was
a stay-at-home mom. Edwin remembered fondly the many days when his
father would bring home unsold day old cakes and breads given to him by
the restaurants.
There were two other important facts that had tremendous impact on
Edwin’s life; his father was a union organizer, and he died when Edwin was
only 18 years old. His father’s beliefs and values stayed with Edwin forever,
and he never forgot his working class roots. Throughout his life he was a fan
of the working man; a fierce advocate for fairness and social justice, always
supporting the underdog.
This was true for most things, but certainly not for sports. As a young
man living in New York, he was a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New
York Knickerbockers, and the New York football Giants. When he moved to
Cleveland, he became a fan of the Browns and Indians, but upon moving to
Boston he gave them up in favor of the Red Sox, Celtics, and Patriots. He loved
to watch his beloved teams on TV while answering e-mails. He also liked to
talk to the players on the TV and was also known to “hex” the opposing team
by pointing two fingers towards the TV and reciting some words too profane
for public consumption.
Simply said, Edwin liked to win. Last winter he rented a condo in Florida
for three months to get out of the Cape Cod cold. Many people visited him
there. While spending some time there, my wife Gloria, Sonia, Edwin and I got
involved in a game of hearts. For most of the night he was losing. Towards the
end he “shot the moon” (a risky all or nothing maneuver) and won the game.
I will always remember the look of delight and satisfaction in his eyes.
Edwin was one of the first of his clan to go to college, encouraged by a
couple of his older cousins who, because of financial contraints, could not go
themselves. He was proud of having gone to college. He liked to talk of how,
in comparison to his family of origin, he had advanced two socio-economic
classes; and of how that advancement had impacted his life in ways good and
One outcome was his “never quite feeling as if he fully belonged.” Although
he was able to live comfortably in many worlds – excelling professionally
as teacher, writer, editor, publisher, institute leader, mentor, professor,
researcher, event planner, and entrepreneur – he never seemed satisfied for
long in any one. He was always moving.
It would be an oversimplification to attribute this range of interests to
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restlessness and a creative heart, though both are true. Maybe a better
explanation is that he really was his own definition of an organizational
consultant: someone who lives at the margins, able to “fit in enough” to
connect and have impact, but at the same time never quite feeling totally a
part (1987).
He first met his wife Sonia in 1942. She was 15, he 16. They never dated, for
dating was not what Brooklyn teenagers did back then. Instead, they hung
out in groups. Luckily for Edwin and Sonia, their respective groups liked each
other and quickly became one. The reconstructed group created their own
community. They would bike (there was little access to cars) and play and
listen to music together. Since most of their parents were immigrants and
could not tell them much about how to live in this new world, they relied on
themselves, helping to bring each other up.
Over the years the members grew apart but reunited about 18 years ago
and still meet regularly. In fact, they gathered together in Wellfleet three
weeks after Edwin died.
This experience of group living became an important influence on both
Sonia and Edwin. Throughout his life Edwin liked, respected, and believed in
groups. He always felt comfortable creating diverse “project groups.” Maybe
it was the act of creation that allowed him to feel part of them.
Later in his life I would watch him form a group of ten when I believed
a smaller number would be much more efficient. I could never understand
why he needed to include so many people. Maybe it was his “union roots”
that made him want to include all the potential stakeholders, even if doing
so created some loss of efficiency. Or, maybe it was because he knew all too
well what it was like to feel like an outsider. I do know that he enjoyed the
experience of connecting people to each other, and he did it well and often
throughout his life.
Following high school he entered City College majoring in engineering.
After inadvertently causing an explosion in the chemistry lab, he decided
that maybe he should try something different. He switched to psychology,
graduating with a B.S. degree in 1947, and then enrolled at Columbia University,
receiving his M.S. degree in 1949. Sonia talks about his being a bright but
uneven student. It seems that when he liked and respected his teachers, he
did better. She remembers that one City College professor, Gardner Murphy,
took Edwin under his wing; he was the first of many mentors.
He and Sonia married in 1948 and decided to leave New York so that he
could pursue his doctoral degree. Western Reserve University in Cleveland
(later to become Case Western Reserve University) offered Edwin the best
financial package, so they moved there. He received his Ph.D. in Industrial
and Organizational Psychology in 1954. Edwin liked to talk of his experiences
edwin c. nevis - a remembrance
with Calvin Hall, the head of his department and former president of the
American Psychological Association. He would talk of going to parties with
“Calvin” where they would drink scotch and smoke cigars. Hall would say to
him, “Tonight, while we are socializing I am Calvin. Tomorrow when we are
back at work I am Dr. Hall.” I believe that this relationship set the stage for
his interest in hierarchy and strategic / intimate ways of relating (S. Nevis,
Backman, and E. Nevis, 2003).
After Edwin’s graduation, they moved to Chicago with their young
daughter, Amy, and he began working as a consultant. It was there that their
second daughter, Melanie, was born. Edwin liked to talk about his first work
experience, and of buying a Brooks Brother’s suit so that he could “fit in”
with his client bankers. Did I tell you that Edwin liked clothes? He was the only
person ever who was able to get me to enjoy shopping.
Following a short stint in Chicago, the Nevis family moved back to Cleveland
where Edwin began working with Erwin Taylor, his former university mentor,
and the two of them formed a consulting group. They focused on employee
selection, creating processes for helping organizations to select employees
with management potential. Their work resulted in a series of articles (e.g.,
Nevis and Taylor, 1961).
These were exciting times for the new breed of psychologists just entering
the clinical field. Often humanistic, they rebelled against the pessimism and
exclusivity of Freudian psychology. And, most important of all, many saw the
Gestalt approach as their professional path.
In time Ed developed a close friendship with Richard Wallen, a Case Western
Reserve professor who also became a mentor and good friend. Edwin would
refer to him often, crediting Wallen for teaching him much about how to
consult, teach, and design workshops. Wallen and he were a part of this
new wave, but went in a different direction from that of their therapist
friends. They had a passion for organizations and found their niche teaching
executives how to be more self-aware and relational, and yes, even how to
breathe properly. Years later, Edwin would smile as he recalled his optimistic
naiveté, and his belief that awareness alone would lead to change.
As he matured he began to differentiate, more and more, clinical from
organizational work. Many years later he articulated his understandings in
two books: Internal Revolutions: A Seven - Point Strategy for Transforming
Organizations with Joan Lancourt, and Helen G. Vassallo (1996); and How
Organizations Learn (1998) with Anthony Di Bella. Both of these excellent
books, which outline how to create transformational change in organizations,
are well worth reading.
Edwin always loved clinical work and self-development. He liked learning.
Throughout his life he attended numerous growth groups as a participant. A
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few years ago he enrolled in our Cape Cod Training Program as a student. He
stayed in that role for the entire 16 days, and at the end told the faculty that
he had learned much.
It was also during his Cleveland years that he and a group of young
professionals became exposed to Gestalt therapy. Paul Goodman, Isadore
From, and Laura and Fritz Perls would come to Cleveland once or twice a
month for a number of years, working with the group experientially while
developing Gestalt therapy. Edwin and the other students not only learned
the theory; they lived it and helped develop it.
In addition to Sonia, the group consisted of Miriam and Erving Polster,
Rainette Fantz, Marie Creelman, Joseph Zinker, Bill Warner, Cynthia Harris,
Elaine Kepner, and Isabel Fredericson. They were very different as people, but
developed a community very much like Sonia’s and Edwin’s teenage crowd,
even raising their families together.
After a number of years they decided to move from learners to teachers,
forming the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland (GIC) in 1953. Edwin served as its
president from 1960-1971, and stayed on as a faculty member for many years
thereafter. He was an outstanding executive, equally comfortable reading
spreadsheets, designing programs, recruiting clients, and planning programs.
He also helped start numerous programs such as Humanism in Action where
students from different colleges were taught Gestalt principles.
While living in Cleveland, Sonia and he, after unsuccessfully looking to buy
a house for over five years, decided to build something different and more in
line with their values of community and connectedness. They found a lovely
property that had been the home of J. D. Rockefeller’s personal physician.
Recruiting twelve others, including colleagues from GIC, Edwin helped
organize the first condominium association in Ohio, with shared grounds, a
swimming pool, and a ballroom.
After his children were grown Edwin’s restlessness reemerged. He debated
whether to go to the American Psychological Association’s annual meeting to
look for other possibilities. He could not decide, so he and Sonia consulted the
I Ching. It said that they should go.
At the conference he was encouraged by Richard Beckhard and Edgar Schein
to look into working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan
School of Management; he was offered a position there in 1978. During that
time his daughter Amy was a student there. For the first few years he commuted
from Cleveland, sleeping in her spare bedroom. Eventually Sonia and Edwin
moved to Cambridge, and he continued his involvement for 17 years where
he served in a number of positions such as Director for the Program of Senior
Executives and Executive Program Development. He also coordinated a threeyear research program on the assessment and development of organizational
edwin c. nevis - a remembrance
learning capacity, and spent nearly a year in China, establishing programs,
teaching and conducting research. Edwin loved to travel, and he was good at
it. He traveled around the world teaching, consulting, and doing research. If
I ever wanted the scoop on how to get the best exchange rate for currency I
would give him a call.
Despite his successes at MIT and his continued association with GIC, he
again experienced himself as not being quite at home. He knew that it was
time to lead his own organization. He even toyed with the idea of applying
for the presidency of a University.
This dream of leadership was realized when Sonia and he turned the Gestalt
International Study Center from a support structure to a fully functioning
institute at Wellfleet (Cape Cod), Massachusetts, housed in a lovely building
and offering an array of programs that focus on organizational, clinical, and
leadership development. In addition to serving as Chairman of the Board for
many years, he was active in teaching, program development, recruiting, etc.
In 2009, the Center was officially renamed the Sonia March and Edwin C. Nevis
Meeting House.
Organizational Development (OD)
While at GIC he was primarily responsible for putting the field of Gestalt
Organizational Development on the map. He did this in four unique ways.
• First, he recruited outstanding students such as John Carter, Len
Hirsch, and Carolyn Lukensmeyer from Case Western Reserve University
to become Gestalt OD practitioners. Over the years he probably trained
thousands of OD specialists. He always had a way with students, a gift of
creating safety. He related to others in such a way that his brightness and
competence were never threatening or demeaning.
• Second, along with his former students, he developed Gestalt OD
theory and spread it around the world.
• Third, he developed two Gestalt training programs in Organizational
Development that are both still running: first, the OSD program of the
Gestalt Institute of Cleveland (initiated with Elaine Kepner, a GIC clinician
with expertise in groups; and with his former students, Carter, Hirsh
and Lukensmeyer); and then, considerably later, the International OSD
program (again with Carter and Lukensmeyer).
• Fourth, in 1987 he published Organizational Consulting: A Gestalt
Approach. This seminal book put Gestalt organizational work on the map
and is still considered “the Bible” of Gestalt-based organizational work.
One sad note is that he was working on a new introduction to the book
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just before his untimely death.
Gestalt International Study Center (GISC)
Edwin’s interests and influence went far beyond the field of O.D. In the early
1970s, one of Sonia’s clients left her $25,000 in her will for the development of
the Gestalt approach. Uncertain as to how to use the money, she put it away
in a bank account for a number of years and when she was finally ready to
use it, it had doubled. The Nevises also received a gift from a family member.
One of its first uses was the rental of a house on the island of Tortola where
the faculty of GIC could retreat to write and create. It was there that Joseph
Zinker wrote The Creative Process of Gestalt Therapy (1977). Even today,
many years later it is still known on the island as the “Gestalt House.” Sonia
and Edwin created the Gestalt International Study Center as a structure for
managing the gifts. The money was used for faculty development and also
for transportation and housing for participants who attended many of the
conferences that Edwin organized.
As I said previously, Edwin loved to bring people together around anything
that interested him. Sonia and he were always developing interest groups on
such topics as power, spirituality, hierarchy, and many others.
Many of these gatherings would take place at their home. And as one
women said at his memorial, it was as if Ed and Sonia were running a B & B;
people were constantly moving in and out of their four extra bedrooms. The
days were always filled with good food, lively conversations, and a sampling
of dark chocolate for dessert. As the evening would wind down, Edwin would
get his second wind and invite anyone who was still awake to join him for
a nightcap and a cigar. People soon developed the habit of repaying their
generosity with a present of a fancy scotch or exotic dark chocolate. Thus,
both were never in short supply.
Many important events were launched during these late night conversations.
He helped develop the Roots Conference that has been meeting for years, and
the Leadership Conference which has brought Gestalt leaders together from
all over the world. He once mentioned to me that he had helped organize
over 35 conferences.
Writing and Publishing
In the early 1980s Edwin and Carolyn Lukensmeyer had discussed the need
edwin c. nevis - a remembrance
for a Gestalt Press. Edwin pursued the idea that led to the formation of the
Gestalt Institute of Cleveland Press (now GestaltPress) (Nevis and Melnick,
2010). Edwin soon handed it over to Gordon Wheeler who, along with Debra
Ullman, has made it a major force in the Gestalt field.
Also in the late 1980s, Edwin and Sonia, along with six others, began meeting
regularly. These meetings eventually became known as “Eaters and Writers
Weekends.” We would periodically spend weekends discussing theory and
writing and, of course, eating well. When I reflect on his life, one thing that
stands out is the generativity of his ideas. Twenty-five years later, Eaters and
Writers is still going strong. Two things remain the same. First, the meetings
are open to all. And second, the price of admission is an interesting piece of
food of your choice. (The second requirement is waived for first-timers.)
During this fertile time, Edwin and Sonia began hosting Writing Conferences
alternating between their homes in Boston and Cape Cod. Attendees would
present drafts of articles and books that they were working on and would
receive help and support. (An outline of the design can be found in Nevis and
Melnick, 2010.)
The Writers’ Conferences became important international events, attended
by writers from all over the world. These yearly community meetings became
so popular that we ran out of time and space. In response, Edwin suggested
that we encourage people to start their own. A number did, including the
European Association for Gestalt Therapy, and the Southwest Association
of Gestalt Therapy. There are now Gestalt Writers’ Conferences that occur
regularly throughout Europe and the USA. After a few years Edwin asked
Gordon Wheeler and me to take over running them. It was there that I got
my first glimpse of Edwin’s organizational skills. He made it look easy. As I lay
back exhausted after completing my first one as organizer, I realized it was
not so easy.
In 1992, utilizing many articles directly shaped by the Writers’ Conferences,
Edwin edited Gestalt Therapy: Perspectives and Applications (1992). I have
always viewed this book as one of the best of its time. It captures many of
the advances and developments of contemporary Gestalt therapy: its chapters
deal with such topics as diagnosis and ethics; as well as with how the Gestalt
approach is applied to alcoholics, children, couples, and groups.
Gestalt Review
While still actively involved with GIC, Edwin and I co-founded Gestalt
Review, a blind peer-reviewed Gestalt journal. The way the project began is
typical of how Edwin developed new ideas. We were sitting around one day
and I started talking about how nice it would be to have a contemporary
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Gestalt journal that was more in tune with our evolving theoretical and
practical foci; less on the individual and more on couples, families, teams, and
As I finished speaking I looked at him, and saw a smile on his face, one
that I would come to know over the years, and thought, “What have I gotten
myself into?” You see, for Edwin, no idea was out of reach as long as it was
accompanied by passion and commitment. Much of his life was spent as a
catalyst, helping to give birth to ideas and projects, after which he would
transfer responsibility to others and move on to new ventures. He never
abandoned a project or the people involved. He always remained interested
and available to provide support and consultation.
The two of us spent the next two years meeting with publishers and learning
the journal business, while I worked to gather a diverse group of Gestaltists
to serve on the board. He hated the word Gestaltist! Our contract was clear. I
would continue as Editor as long as I was having fun. Once I stopped enjoying
myself, then it was time either to change something I was doing, or to get
out. In hindsight, I realize that this is how he lived his life. Edwin was true to
his word. Over the next ten years he remembered to ask me periodically, “Are
you still enjoying yourself?”
Mending The World
One of the important conferences he created occurred in Cape Town, South
Africa, in 2006. It was on Social Change, and Gestalt practitioners presented
their work from all over the world. While there, the two of us, along with my
wife Gloria, took a tour of the Robben Island Prison where Nelson Mandela
and many of the anti-apartheid fighters had been held. The tour guides had
all been prisoners there. Ours was the youngest of them, having attempted,
at age 13, to firebomb a post office. When one of the tourists tried to express
sympathy for this man who had spent his youth in prison, the man replied with
passion, “Don’t be sad for me. I grew up in the hands of some of the finest,
most compassionate people you will ever encounter. It was like going to a
University behind bars. I learned history, geography, and social philosophy”
(Melnick and Nevis, 2009, p.10). When he finished, we were all in tears.
As we prepared to board the boat to take us back to the mainland, Edwin
looked at me with that expression that I had become accustomed to. We knew
that we had to create something that explored the long history of Gestalt
therapy and social change. Edwin had come full circle and returned to his
roots. His father would have been proud.
edwin c. nevis - a remembrance
As a Person
Edwin was a leading practitioner. He did not just teach or theorize. He
worked actively in the field up until his last days. A week before he died he
expressed frustration that, because of his ill health, he was unable to attend
a retreat for one of his long-term consulting clients. The year before, he
had been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Organizational
Development Network. When asked how he felt about receiving this
prestigious award, he replied, “I deserved it.” And he had!
He was a connecter. He loved bringing people together. He genuinely liked
people and had the ability to make anyone feel comfortable and safe.
He had presence. At the memorial service, his daughter Melanie reminisced,
“When my sister and I were little, and just learning to talk, one of the first
things my father taught us to say was ‘My daddy is a BIG man!’ We giggled,
but we practiced it with him often. It was a big family joke” (2011).
He was a mentor. Of all the things that he loved, there was nothing that he
enjoyed more than mentoring and supporting people. Throughout the entire
time I knew him, I knew that if I had an issue – personal or professional – I
could call on him and he would support me in such a way that I would never
feel “less than.” Of equal importance, I never once felt that I was intruding.
He was a hard worker. He was always working on something, all hours of
the day. I have always prided myself on my high energy. We began working on
Mending when he was in his early eighties. Whenever we worked together, I
was always the first to quit.
He was a doer. He understood that awareness was central, but that it was
often not enough. It was important for the energy generated to lead to a
good outcome. And the outcome was invariably something that made the
world a little bit better. When he said that he would do something, it was
done at a high level and always on time.
He was an intellectual. He loved ideas and theory, and he particularly loved
history. One year, we bought him as a present the complete writings of South
African Prime Minister, Jan Christian Smuts, an advocate of holism, which is a
fundamental tenet of the Gestalt approach. Within one month he had read
and digested both volumes.
He loved neatness and order – part of his Sherlock Holmes side. When
conducting a workshop or leading a conference, he would get there early and
spend what seemed like hours arranging the chairs and flip charts until they
were perfect. His preparation for events was exacting and impeccable.
He had a huge generosity of spirit. He loved presents – both giving and
receiving them – and enjoyed a good time more than anyone I have ever met.
As his daughter Melanie said at the service, above all Edwin was big. He had
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a big heart and big feelings – often quick to laugh and rise to anger, and even
quicker to wind down. In all the years I knew him, I never knew him to hold a
grudge. He not only cared about people, but he also truly liked them.
The Last Days
Edwin was alive and vibrant, filled with optimism up until the end. He turned
his half of his rehabilitation room into a command center for operations. I
was lucky to be teaching at GISC during his last week. Five days before he
died he called me on a Sunday, upset because he did not have a copy of the
Sunday New York Times. He also needed some T-shirts and lounging pajamas.
It happened to be our only half-day off from an intense program. Penny
Backman and I dropped our plans immediately and brought him what he
asked for (along with some chocolate). There was no doubt he would have
done the same for us.
He also died in a way that brings a smile to my face. Near the end, Sonia
remembers his asking his daughter Amy for a glass of scotch. After she left the
room he turned to Sonia, looked at the glass and said, “Make it stronger.” She
did. Those were the last words he spoke.
I wish to end with the poem that Carol Brockmon shared at Edwin’s funeral
service on Friday, 3 June 2011.
To be of use
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
edwin c. nevis - a remembrance
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
– Marge Piercy
Joseph Melnick, Ph.D.
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