Gert Thaler’s purposefulness and zaniness remembered
Editor’s Note: The following eulogy was delivered at the funeral of Gert Thaler, 91, on Tuesday, April 17, at Ohr Shalom Synagogue in San Diego by her dear friend Norman Greene.
By Norman Greene
SAN DIEGO–As my friend Lorraine Schrag commented, “it is hard to imagine a world without Gert thaler.” Many here today have known her, or of her, all their lives. That’s what comes of being a very public figure in our community and living for 91 years.
Gert was a once in a lifetime kind of person…a friend, confidante and advisor like no other. Gert and I had a very special bond that lasted almost 40 years.
Morris Casuto called Gert a “force of nature.” she had a larger than life personality, a strong will, an intense determination to assist others, a hyper active curiosity and a firm dedication to endlessly learning new things, making new best friends, and to growing her own talents. She was an original. Until the last few months, age was no barrier. She was always a doer.
Gert undoubtedly inherited her passionate concern for other human beings from her beloved mother, Anna Shelley, a San Diego pioneer. Mrs. Shelley was one of the mainstays of the small San Diego Jewish community creating the foundations for the many formal social services that are now available in town. Gert learned at her mother’s knee and never stopped being concerned for others. She loved the portrait of her mother that she rescued from Beth Jacob’s renovation.
Concern is one thing, but her actions over the years spoke louder than words. Gert had a no-nonsense way of cutting to the heart of a problem and seeking viable solutions. As such she had an incalculable influence on friends, relatives and complete strangers from here to Israel. Former California governor, senator and San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson said she was not only a very dear friend, but also a sound advisor.
Gert had a wonderful sense of humor and could be very playful, seductive and enticing when she wanted to turn on the charm. One of the things she tried to teach me over the years was “You don’t ask, you don’t get.” And Gert knew how to “get” on behalf of her many charities, projects, organizations and the individuals whose careers she aided. She never saw herself as a fund raiser, but there are globally numerous organizations that would challenge that. The mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai, gave her a key to the city, one of only seven keys that have ever been awarded in its 100 year history. This was in special recognition of Gert’s services to the Tel Aviv Foundation.
For 62 years, Gert wrote and reported about San Diego and Israel in her columns. She chronicled lives and events in her warm, loving way. She brought us stories of children growing up, the best chicken soup in San Diego county, her adventures in travel, her legendary shopping exploits, her battles with computers and countless insights into life. She brought color and humor to the lives and events she witnessed and she shared this with all of us. You could hear her hearty laugh in many of the stories she wrote. She always wrote from her heart. She most often stayed away from controversies in print, but spoke her mind at the appropriate places.
We all learned a great deal about life from Gert. She demonstrated over and over again that one person can make a difference. She made a difference.
For years, I have been after her to compile her best columns into a book or to write her memoir. A few weeks ago, she called to tell me that she had just about completed her memoir and wanted me to edit it. I never received it and hope that it can be found to be shared as a lasting tribute to her memory.
Gert lived the life she wanted. She had a hellofa run. 91 years of love, laughter, fun-making, adventure, boldness, meaningfulness, imagination, terrifying escapes from near death situations, and deep friendship all around the world.
Gert perfected the art of living. She had an amazing will to live life to the fullest….and she did. Gert even left us in the way she would have wanted…quickly and I hope painlessly. Her big, warm, full heart simply and suddenly stopped.
Gert’s message to me was always about the future. She was always planning for tomorrow…the speaker she wanted to hear, the class she wanted to take, the opera she wanted to attend, the dinner she was planning, the friends she would see…the love she felt for her grandchildren, for her daughter, Linda and her sons Larry and Harvey. In our last conversation, last Thursday, Gert called to ask about my new grandson born a week ago today. She wanted to know all about his birth and the plans for his bris tomorrow so she could note it on her calendar.
Like each of us, over the years I have told stories about Gert. The adventures we had throughout Israel, in Egypt, Turkey, Texas, Las Vegas, Jordan in a bathhouse, and just about every restaurant in San Diego County. She had a talent for kidnapping me for just an hour and instead, I’d find myself driving her to Mexico or Palm Springs, or LA or dining in New York at an overly expensive cabaret listening to Michael Feinstein or Barbara Cook at the Carlyle, or worst yet having her drive me almost anywhere. As Admiral Ben Shoshon once famously said: “To Gert, a stop sign is only a suggestion.” There are so many pictures in my mind… Gert’s all pink birthday weekend, Gert dressed as Hello Dolly, Gert as the emcee at my father’s 70th birthday party or roasting me at my 40th, Gert inveigling Bobby and me into a transvestite bar in full costume. Gert in virtually every hospital in town. Gert celebrating with Mort and family. You can’t forget those times…the bitter with the sweet.
When Mort died some 15 years ago, Gert momentarily lost her anchor, her sounding board. This was a position Linda filled so well for her mother.
Nothing can make the sadness of losing her go away other than the wonderful, zany, inspiring memories we each have of special times we each shared with Gert. Gert will always be alive and laughing within us. Time will soften our sadness as we reflect on the warm bond we had with a very remarkable lady.
With her passing, an era has ended in the San Diego Jewish community.
Shalom Gert, we loved you.
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