Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Walter Mirapaul, 89

SHORTLY AFTER I began this blog more than three years ago with the alias of Grumpy Abe, I discovered that a close friend was emailing it to his army of recipients. When I called him to suggest that it might not be a wise thing to do inasmuch as some of his contacts were probably conservative Republicans, Walter Mirapaul dismissed the question. "So what," he said. "If they don't like it, I couldn't care less."

That was vintage Walter M. He didn't care a wit about what people might have said about him. A self-made millionaire who rose from abject poverty, he enjoyed the prosperity derived from his enormously successful fruit juice company (Ohio Pure Foods) by living out his 89 years his - and only his - way. He was full of good humor, eccentric, impossible, thoughtful, generous, and a source for the smartest buys at supermarkets, discount stores and birdseed shelves while being a determined regular at Rex's salvage.

In the more than 40 years that I knew him as a friend among friends, I witnessed - exasperatingly so, at times - his pursuit of beating the system. Our home is filled with items that he bought God knows where - a shaving mug and electric razor to a porcelain teapot and magnifying glass. He would shop the year-round for gifts for a group of friends at his Christmas parties with three or four carefully wrapped items for each. We chose them from a pile by lot. His dear friend Louise was exhausted by all of the preliminaries and gift-wrapping for the annual event.

On those occasions, he was sort of the earth father enjoying his role as a Jewish Santa who wanted to send everyone home happy.

Despite our family-style relationship there was always one more surprise from him. As Nancy and I sat at a dining table at the Cascade Club, Walter headed toward us, forcing his way past a number of tables in the crowded room. He cradled in his arms a heavy plaster camel as his latest gift to us. The neck had been repaired, which indicated late modern Rex's salvage. Walter ignored the people who were staring at him. He proudly announced that the big camel would have a proper home with us.

He called on one of the hottest summer afternoons to ask about my ailing ankle. I said I really couldn't leave the porch for any reason. Minutes later he arrived with balloons, insisted that I get into his car with his help and took Nancy and me to get a Strickland's ice cream cone. "That will make you feel better," he said. He absolutely knew that would work.

At Severance Hall for the Cleveland Orchestra concerts, he always handed the parking garage booth attendant candy, which had become a ritual. Wherever we dined, he drew sketches of the servers to refresh his early student days in art classes. A fully committed
patron of the arts, he provided tuition for string players at the University of Akron and made sure that WKSU fund drives met their quotas. His grants went to other arts organizations without fanfare; Summa, where he was a board member, and to friends in need. He shopped at Mark's for unbeatable prices.

Finally he was a liberal one per center who grew more scornful each day of the Tea Party crowd and the Republican presidential candidates, accusing them of utter stupidity and greed. A wealthy man himself, he distrusted wealth. On the other hand, great art and music, some patient friends who put up with his playful antics, and a big office desk cluttered with cookies and candy boxes - these surpassed whatever wealth meant to others.

A few days before he entered City Hospital to stay, I drove him to his barber and on to a South Side deli (Primo's) where we ate superb corned beef sandwiches. I asked him whether he had eaten corned beef sandwiches at the Carnegie Deli in New York and Wolfie's in Miami - both of which were memorable. Indeed, he said he had. 'Their sandwiches were very good" he said. "But this one is better."

I learned long ago I could never top Walter on quality and price. On his word alone, this would be the greatest corned beef sandwich in the world. Even in his absence , I won't dare deny it.


Anonymous said...

This made me cry Uncle Aber! Thank you!

Niece Judy Conway

David Hess said...

How is it that the world's most generous hearts fail to live forever? While the despots and narrow-minded bigots seem, generation after generation, to persist? Even the Walter Mirapauls, who rail against the ungenerous and sociopathic wingnuts, can't seem to prevail.

Connie Schultz said...

Abe, I cherish Walter's pencil sketches of my daughter Cait and me. He was such a kind-hearted man. Thank you for your tribute.

Anonymous said...

Abe, your tribute to Walter was perfect. He would have loved it. I was one of the lucky ones to have one of those sketches by Walter. I will send it to you. Walter was the most generous, kind person I had the privilege of meeting.

Anonymous said...

And how much Walter Mirapaul loved and respected you, Abe. Whether fussing to set right anything electronic that went awry in your home or advising you on where to obtain that widget cheaper, Walter was also seeking your opinion about this performance of classical music or that movie which had just appeared or that art show newly announced. He checked his political information with you quietly then repeated your opinions as gospel, and he hung upon your latest revelations, particularly the gossip. You were an anchor of his forty-year brunch bunch, and if you were absent, it just wasn't right. In addition to your tribute, let that be known which modesty prevents your saying, that your friendship mattered greatly to Walter.--Mark A.