Morning – my name is Stacy Abder.
I am so happy that so many of you from so many of Greg’s many communities and family could be here to support each other and share memories of our Greg, and I hope that I can talk to as many of you as possible.
I have known Greg for my entire adult life, since I was 16, and had serious plans to know him for the rest of my life.
- I meet Greg on my first day at Harvard College – technically – during our freshman orientation
- He was my first friend in that rarefied and foreign environment – a charming guy who seemed to think that it was okay for a tall white Jewish guy sporting a “granny bun” to love the blues and use Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin as ‘mood music’
- We stayed friends through the years
- Through our undergrad days, he introduced me to many of the friends I still have today – including my husband, Gian.
- He invited me to London (gave Tizzy, another one of his college buddies, and I a whirlwind tour of the city including the Buckingham Palace and the best salsa underground clubs)
- Though college graduation (where we sat side-by-side)
- Through my move to San Francisco (Where he bestowed his wonderful friends (including Jason K.– Yana – Noah) on me)
- And we kept in close contact through his years at Harvard Medical School, at Stanford, and his homecoming fellowship in Chicago.
From speaking to his closest friends and distant acquaintances I think it is fair to say that we all think of Greg in superlatives – funniest, sincerest, sweetest, smartest, zany-iest, most talented, most caring… the list goes on and on… And I’m sure each of us has our own favorite memories and stories of Greg.
So I thought that maybe you would indulge me while I share a few short stories of mine that might resonate for you…
Greg’s Dancing Shoes
So I’m sure some of you have had the pleasure of being shamed off the dance-floor by Greg. Well, I was there during the creation of the monster.
Sometime during college – Greg and I decided that it would be a great idea to take an off-campus dance class together. We were both close in height and both wanted to not fall flat at the endless stream of Harvard formals and informals and semi-formals.
So we in enrolled in Ken’s Ballroom Survey class at a local church and spent about 10 weeks learning to swing, salsa, and waltz.
Now I told you that Greg introduced Tizzy and me to London – Well, he was there for the semester, we were there for the summer and we overlapped for one night. On our first night in town he took us on a night tour of London – including all the historic sights, walking maps, notes on the best places, and a late late night tour of the local salsa scene. Like he did for many others in other situations, Greg made it his responsibility to make us at home in a new place and show us the ropes.
While he was in London, Greg had spent his free time learning more Latin dance at these amazing clubs with free lessons and incredible teachers and very competitive regular student dancers.
Tizzy and I knew that he was really into it that night – when he discreetly brought out his own pair of dancing shoes and shed his “street shoes” before the beginning of class.
Over the summer, Greg had become a connoisseur and ambassador of salsa. He knew the difference between regional steps, the basics of more forms than you may know exist, and had become determined to be great at the style.
So during my senior year – back at Harvard – Greg convinced me out of one of my bluer periods to get together with him in the underused squash courts of Adams House about twice a week. He would cart out a boom box and an amazing tape of salsa – and we would dance – HARD. We were both sharp with new skills and Greg had a gift for remembering long intricate sequences and was determined that I learn them too.
We became each other’s party trick – at a boring party? well, there’s a salsa tune – and we would simply wipe the floor with a quick salsa. And gosh, was Greg good – I quickly figured out that I knew nothing and just let him lead me across the floor hoping that the frequent turns were not burning holes in my shoes. In his arms – it was almost impossible not to clear the floor.
Later in SF – we would haunt Café Cocomo and Greg continued to learn more… And I could feel that I was falling behind – he was faster, smoother, and just more aero-dynamic than I. But he never failed to ask me to dance at least one song– and when my mother came to visit me in San Francisco for the first time – he insisted that we take her dancing and he convinced her that she too was a dancing queen in less than one song.
Greg always had a willingness to share the things that he was good at in way that convinced us all that it wasn’t that hard and we too could be the next star….
We last danced together at our 10 year college reunion last year. Greg was still fast and smooth – and I can’t deny a little joy that all eyes were on us.
Greg And The Sing-Along
So I didn’t grow up in the United States and the idea of a campfire sing-a-long was a bit foreign to me.
Somehow – as so many people have recounted, Greg managed over and over again to convince perfectly grown-up people that it was okay to sit around a fire/fireplace/his guitar, and sing out loud in amazingly out-of-tune voices to really really really cheesy pop music.
Greg’s voice would lead us – and there was never any fear if you didn’t know the lyrics. I don’t know how anyone could have left any of the incarnations of Greg’s sing-a-longs in anything less than child-like bliss.
He made us remember that music was ours… and then reminded us with a mean blues guitar solo that it was indisputably his too.
Greg’s Belief In the Power Of One
Greg was the only guy I knew who actually believed that it was his responsibility to do something to correct the evils of the Holocaust. Not in a theoretical way – not in an intellectual “let’s talk about it” way, not in a preachy “killing people is bad way” – but as a real every day thing.
When I first met him on our freshman volunteer program – I recognized him as an idealist like me… and as we got older, I was always amazed by his continual belief that his actions as one man could make a difference. All of you probably know a story of Greg shipping out on a mission of hope usually as its a leader.
- In college, the stories included his work with Habitat for Humanity and a spring break trip to repair a Southern Baptist church that was a victim of the rash of burnings and vandalism during the last 90s
- More recently, Jason Keck will vividly recount Greg’s mission to Cuba to deliver “donated” medical supplies to hospitals and fellow students there
- Recently he took a trip to Rwanda – despite his own concerns of the danger in the region – because he thought it his duty to help
His belief in the Power of ONE dedicated him to medicine – a field in which he constantly struggled to figure out how he could help, how he could inspire younger practitioners, how he could be a good doctor himself, and how he could give the most to his patients.
The Greg who was constantly recognized as a mentor, teacher, leader at his given level in the field – was that because he believed some simple things that I would like to share:
- He believed deeply it was his duty to teach and to mentor and that taking the time to do these things was a mitzvah even if it meant that he was a little behind that day, that week, or that month.
- Greg would take a new medical student, like Yana, on a shadow day in the OR showing her tricks of the trade, like one-handed stitches, that were usually reserved for more senior doctors and coaching her through her rough first days. Or he would spend the time to buy chickens for younger doctors’ suturing practice.
- He took pride in making his teaching interesting because he knew it would resonate with his students and save lives
- He also believed that the people who mentored him thorough his childhood, academic, and early professional years were critical to his success, and he never failed to be grateful and to share stories of their teachings.
- Greg also believed that patients deserved to be spoken to with respect and that patients’ families were not obstacles on his way to fixing a problem.
He was my back-up medical google, my back-up OB-GYN, and my backup geriatric specialist for my own grandmother… and I know that I’m not the only one who found themselves relying upon him in this way since Greg had a way of explaining medical procedures in a way that made them make sense no matter how scared we were.
I think many of us are here today because Greg took a little time to teach us something, or to make sure in our times of medical distress that we understood what was happening to our bodies or the bodies of our family members.
He took everyday as a chance to make a difference – and always remembered that who and how he was affected others’ path through life. He was a rock for so many of us – someone to provide a smile and kind word on a bad day and sometimes to literally save us from ourselves.
Greg The Lover
Greg used to confuse people with his genuineness… I remember in college how he could simply daze a woman by paying attention to her and being nice. Men on campus couldn’t gauge how a guy could be so nice – and often took a while to warm up to Greg’s charms.
Then I learned more about his family – and his devotion and dedication and PURE LOVE for them and it started to make sense.
Here was a guy who believed that people should be listened to and respected and treated well – because that was what he was taught by his incredible family to know in his heart at all times.
[Aside to his family: Sid / Rhoda / Howard / Judith]
Greg’s love for you helped me believe in family, in devoted hardworking children, and in dedicated involved and encouraging parents.
These things inspire me as I get ready to be a parent for the first time, and remind me how to be a better family member.
The foundation that you (his family) laid for him is simply why Greg epitomized so many things – what it means to be a good child, a good sibling, a good musician, a good student, a good teacher, a good mentor, a good doctor, a good Jew, a good gentleman.
All of these qualities were held in a guy who knew how to help us notice the humorously absurd qualities of life. He would call one of us after many long hours at the hospital and tell a funny story about the day’s near tragic events. Without him – the world is a less funny place.
A few months ago – Greg asked Tizzy and I to hold this letter in case something went wrong in Rwanda…. He sent this email on February 26th 2010.
Hey kids. Leaving for Rwanda today, and totally jazzed. But I do need one favor from you — to keep something for me.
There is zero reason to believe anything would go wrong on this trip, but bad things happen, and god knows that Rwanda has seen more than its share of horrors. So I just wrote a brief note to my family and friends that I’m sending to you to keep for me. It’s attached below. Ignore it. Don’t read it.
If something goes wrong — and there is NO REASON to think it will — then you can forward it to the following folks ()
Love you, thank you, and looking forward to telling you to delete that thing when I get back safely.
February 26, 2010
Dear family and friends,
If you’re reading this, then something has gone wrong. And if it can’t be made right, this will be my last chance… to thank you.
Tomorrow, I leave for Rwanda, where I’ll be spending several weeks operating. I’m certainly not planning on any misadventures, but the world isn’t always a pleasant place, and Rwanda has seen far more than its share of horrors. I could write you a dramatic story addressing: Why Rwanda? But it isn’t much more complicated than this: there are patients there who need what I’ve been trained to do.
It could have been a lot of places where awful things have happened, but the opportunity arose to work in Rwanda. The world owes that country for how little we did to prevent a genocide — something that we vowed after WWII “never again” to permit — and now I can be a small part of trying to repair a small part of the country. I have been preparing one way or another for something like this for nine years, and so I jumped at the chance.
Since you’re reading this, something went all pear-shaped. So I probably won’t get the opportunity to thank you for the wonderful 32 years I’ve had. For two incredible, loving parents, and two siblings I adore. For three grandparents I got to learn from, and two nieces I got to watch grow from infants into people. For so much music, so much laughter, and so much generous friendship.
So if something bad did happen to me, then at least know this: if I have to exit at 32, there are worse ways to go out than doing something I believe in. And I had a hell of a lot of fun before I went.
This is the Greg we remember…
Greg – You were loved, you are loved, and forever will be loved.