On Thursday May 5, 2005, about 50 people gathered at the Michigan League in Ann Arbor to
remember Edith Gomberg and celebrate her life. Former colleagues, students, co-workers, friends,
and family were there, in a room just across the hall from where Edith's Festschrift was held nearly six
years earlier. The sunny and mild Spring weather was in pleasant contrast to the grey and bitter cold
of four months earlier, when Edith was laid to rest. One of the last things Edith told me in person was
how much she loved the Springtime, when an explosion of colorful flowers blanketed the woods near
her house. How appropriate that this Celebration of her life and work would be held in just such
weather and circumstances.
Here are the text of some of the remarks made at the Memorial, in roughly the order in which they
were given. A few people spoke extemporaneously, and their comments were not recorded, although
their thoughts and shared memories were much appreciated.
Robert A. Zucker, Ph.D., Director- Addiction Research Center:
Thank you all for coming.
Edith was deeply moved that so many came to share with her and honor her during her Festschrift in
1999, and were she to see how many came today, I know she would again have felt pleased and
I first met Edith in the late ‘60s, when I was a staff member at the Center of Alcohol Studies at
Rutgers.. The Center had just moved down from Yale, and old timers from the alcohol field like Mark
Keller, the long time editor of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol (then the Quarterly Journal of Studies
on Alcohol), Selden Bacon, and Tony Carpenter, had all moved down from New Haven with it. Edith
would periodically visit with her old buddies, discuss her research, work on some new review project-
most often having to do with women and alcohol--and find out what was new that was going on at the
She was specially intrigued by the early work I was doing on the origins of problem drinking among
high school students, and how that fit with her own work on the functioning of alcoholic women. The
work that most caught her eye was our findings on early relationships these girls had with their
parents. It struck a cord with her, because her own findings, some 20 to 30 years developmentally
later, echoed similar themes. I had just finished my Ph.D., and the interest of someone so well known
was good for my ego.
But more that that, we were quickly able to establish a dialogue that was the beginning of an
intellectual collaboration and a friendship that lasted until her death. Edith was always so very
broadly read in the alcohol literature, and there would often be a new lead, or a suggestion about
some relevant work that would come out of those early meetings. Edith would also kibbitz with Tony
Carpenter about old colleagues at Yale, sometimes fondly, sometimes not so fondly. She was feisty,
and she didn’t pull punches about her opinions, a quality that so many of you know remained with her
throughout her life.
My active professional collaboration with her began in the ‘70s, after she moved to Michigan and I
joined the faculty at Michigan State University. She wanted to keep informed about my prospective
study of young children at high risk for alcoholism, and she started inviting me to give yearly talks to
her very popular class in the School of Social Work, on Alcohol and Other Drugs. The class was
always a lively one, because Edith engaged so personally with her students. The regular interactions
she and I had at that time led to our publication of the American Psychologist paper on “The etiology
of alcoholism reconsidered”, that work in turn led to my spending a sabbatical at the Center, and that
eventually led to my becoming Center Director here. So my career at Michigan is very closely tied to
my connections with her.
During those years Edith co-edited two of the major books on alcohol and aging, one with Tom
Beresford; and one with me and Andrea Hegedus.
Edith was a tough cookie, I remember her saying with some hurt and some anger that her M.A.
advisor at Columbia, the eminent social psychologist Otto Kleinberg, had discouraged her from
seeking a Ph.D., because women didn’t need to do that. Instead of following his advice, she went to
Yale, where, shortly after completing her dissertation, she carried out the first study on personality
differences in alcoholic women. She was a pioneer in describing the drinking behavior of women and
understanding the ways that alcoholic women were different than alcoholic men. She also was one of
the first to take an interest in the alcohol and other drug problems of the aged, a population that was
heavily neglected until Edith started to write about it.
One of the common sayings of her generation, and mine, that we don’t hear so much any more was
“Illigitimus non carborondum”,….which for those of you who don’t speak Latin is loosely translated as:
Don’t let the bastards grind you down. This a favorite saying for Edith, and was posted on a card in a
prominent place in her office.
Well, Edith didn’t let the grinding down happen. but more than that, she had impact on a lot of what
we take for granted today; that the problems of women and alcohol are different than those for men,
that it is essential to understand cultural variations in use because the patterns of use and abuse
over the life span are different for different cultures.
What is intriguing to me is that Edith had a nose for what was important 10-20 years before the field
caught up with her, and she had a career-long commitment to those who have been disenfranchised,
and overlooked. I don’t know what guided her in choice of topics, but her interest in alcohol problem
among women was only one. Only in the last 3 or 4 years has there become a more popular interest
in the increasing alcohol problems being seen in the elderly, and the whole topic of prescription drug
abuse, an issue of great concern to NIDA only in the last year, was an area she was interested in a
Because her feistiness was so much a part of her character, no remembrance of Edith would be
complete without a little bit of roasting. For her Festschrift, in 1999, I asked the post-docs for a few of
Edith’s best one liners…and I’d like to share of few of them with you.
Among the top 10 expressions heard coming from her office- if they don't like it they can go to hell-
that’s what I say...
I don’t know if I believe those "fancy schmancy statistics"
Some terms of endearment used for post-docs and others she was fond of.
You girls, you kids, also darling, dearie, sweetie, and honey bun
And finally: some words of advice - "...listen honey, of course people didn’t know then what they know
today, but when I had kids I used to nurse them while smoking a
cigarette, and drinking a beer, and I constantly had to flick the ashes off
the babies’ clothes. Well, even with that my kids turned out fine, so don’t worry so much.
Kirk J. Brower, M.D., Director- Addiction Psychiatry Training Program:
I would like to talk about Edith Gomberg from the view point of a junior colleague, because when I first met Edith in 1987
that is what I was.
The first time I attended a national meeting of the Research Society of Alcoholism, it was 1989 and in Beaver Creek, CO.
We were a fledgling research center in those days and on a tight budget, so Edith and I agreed to share lodging there, a
condominium with two bedrooms, 2 baths, and a common living area. Neither Henry nor Claire was worried. But I was a
little, but it turned out not with any cause. She was great company, whether first thing in the morning or last thing at night.
All who knew Edith appreciated her great wit and frankness. At meetings, she introduced me other alcohol researchers,
some of whom I otherwise might not have appreciated. Meanwhile back at the ranch, our alcohol research center came to
see us as people who shared well together, so we were put in the same office for 10 or so years. On days we overlapped
there, we enjoyed conversing, whether exchanging new developments in alcoholism research or gossiping about
Edith invited me to guest lecture to her Drugs and Society class each year I was here when she taught in the School of
Social Work. So I would come over from the medical campus to the Frieze Building, which at that time was the School of
Social Work. I don’t know what she said to those graduate students before I arrived, but they were the most attentive and
inquisitive classes of students I ever taught and I was known to whisper that I would teach social work students over
medical students any day. Of course, social work students are special, but it was their respect for, and gratitude to, Edith
for her insights and teaching that created such wonderful classes and buttered them up before I taught.
I thank Edith for her humor, her interest – she would always ask about my children and attended some family
celebrations –and her passion for alcoholism research. I am honored to have known her, and hope that I can do for my
junior colleagues what she did so well for others.
Stephen Lisansky, firstborn son:
“I was born two weeks after the start of the roaring twenties” was the first line of what was to be my mother’s
autobiography. She was proud of her durability and wanted the reader to know it at once. “I have cheated death four
times”, she said to a friend, and accepted a gift of some rosary beads, “just in case”. The autobiography would have
been typed; the computer remained an unloved mail machine and even then it was only very grudging. Email was too
impersonal for her and we got handwritten notes until she was well into her 80s.
She gave me my first typewriter, a second-hand manual portable Royal, and only made it to an electric ‘golf-ball’ herself.
She remembered her past and told the occasional good story – In the 1930s, lighting up at the dinner table – her father
asked “Why do you smoke that brand?” She answered - “For the coupons”, And what can you get with the coupons her
mother said – at which point her laconic father replied. “Consumption?”. Thinking of those days, she remembered the
milk soured on the windowsill and the cold red borscht with hot potato and sour cream, the goats on the corner when
Brooklyn still had farms and the five-cent streetcar.
On reflection, I’m sure she didn’t write her autobiography because her thinking pretty much always on the future. The
nostalgic indulgence, which was fun for us, really wasn’t for her. She was much more interested in people and
achievements. Visiting us in England she liked going to Hill Top, the cottage of Beatrix Potter, a very early liberated
woman who was a children’s author, pioneer environmentalist, founder of the National Trust – now with 3 million members
and custodian of most of Britain’s past and a Herdwick sheep breeder. Her favourite place to visit was Waddesdon
Manor, a Rothschild house full of treasure and also the original 1917 ‘Balfour Declaration’ committing Britain to the
establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine.
She wanted us, her children, to write with her a scholarly book on alcohol; I was to do the section on fermentation but
said I preferred to do the cocktail recipes instead. We never got past the planning stage but maybe it would have been
too much a labour of love to be interesting. She did, however, keep copies of everything her children wrote, published
and otherwise. I was shocked to find my kindergarten report cards in her collection – although it was interesting to
discover that my own flaws remain much the same now as then.
Edith was proud of her intellectual and literary productivity, as were we. She graduated from university at 18 and her last
book arrived when she was 83½. One book, “Gender and Disordered Behavior”, was dedicated inter alia to my wife and
me. On the face of it, I said, this could be thought a dubious honour; besides it would have sold better if called “Sex and
One of my favourite of her sayings, a little adapted, was, “If God had intended us to eat at home, he wouldn’t have given
us restaurants” as a corollary to “I have already proved I can cook”. We dined everywhere from Michelin two-stars in
Paris to British truck stops. She enjoyed the occasion and the company but also had an excellent stomach and enjoyed
Enduring memories of Edith remain with her friends. Visitors, even those who only stayed a day or so, were impressed
with her warm hospitality. My nephews remember arriving at her house and being given a list of restaurants from which to
choose for each of the meals during their visit. Time for talking was too precious to be wasted in the kitchen. Her travel
with Henry and with us gave her friends and acquaintances everywhere.
She loved Puccini and passed this on to us. Her rigour, discipline, patient capacity for work and thinking, yet sympathetic
listening and quick compassion and generosity were hopefully passed on in some measure.
I remember distinctly being around 12 years old and, for once, working hard up in my room on an essay for school. As I
had been taught, I wrote it and revised and revised and revised. When finally I typed it up and brought it down for
inspection, she said, “Not too bad for a first draft”. It was a tough lesson but it said, if you want to be good – it takes a lot
Latterly Edith developed what to me were somewhat quirky politics. I think she believed what one friend of mine
remembered her saying – if you’re not a communist at 20, you have no heart, but if you’re still a communist at 40, you
have no head. I told her that I thought her political views were probably "side effects of the drugs” – but she didn’t retreat
Edith had conviction and candor, cleverness and compassion. She was a first-class role model and an excellent mother. I
thank her for her life and mine.
Eugene Lisansky, youngest son:
First of all I would like to thank all those who have spoken today and shared their memories of Edith. And special "thank
you's" go to Dr. Bob Zucker and his wonderful staff for organizing this Memorial.
We perceive her absence in many ways. For me, one moment came recently as I looked through a scrapbook of
childhood greeting cards and other memorabilia. In June of 1962, I was invited to the country-club-pool party of a grade-
school classmate, and on the invitation, pasted in the scrapbook, Edith had written “a memorably catastrophic day”. Oh,
how I yearned to walk into her room and ask her what had happened at that party, what I had done and what had she
done about it. As Sophocles wrote: “Children are the anchors that hold a mother to life”. But her departure leaves ME
feeling somewhat adrift.
Yet despite her physical absence from our midst, a part of her will live in our minds and in our souls every single day.
She has left a piece of herself on each of our plates. Some of us got a large portion; others only a small taste. Those of
you who knew her well, know how appropriate the food reference really is.
My mother accomplished so much: She broke through barriers real and imagined, to obtain a first class education;
performed thorough and thoughtful research on important social problems; stayed way ahead of the curve, and apart
from the herd. She married, raised three children, divorced, married again and raised an even bigger family. She had a
knack for discerning the heart of a matter, cutting through the “blather” as she sometimes called it, and clarifying the
issues. She worried a great deal about whether she was a good and successful wife and mother, and toward the end of
her life I think she finally realized she had achieved more than “good and successful”: she was “excellent and exemplary”.
All this accomplishment was not without cost. And Edith struggled with her inner demons, as we all do. Yet, in the words
of one of her favorite phrases, mentioned several times today: ”illegitimus non carborundum".
When a paper or article was rejected, she kept writing. When a marriage failed, she took a huge leap and tried again.
When the U-M administration forced her out when she got ill, she found a better job, and said “the hell with ‘em”.
I always smile when I remember how, only half-kidding, she threatened to sue the University for age discrimination
because they tried to force her to retire at age 70. Feh! She might say.
Was my mother a brave woman? Hell yes! A few examples:
She pursued a brilliant career in the face of discouragement, setbacks, and the dubiousness of some authority figures
and family members. She researched areas she believed were important and could help humanity and human beings,
even though it sometimes took the rest of the scientific community years, or decades, to catch up.
She battled occasional bouts of depression and self-doubt, and still managed to lift others to great heights and inspire
Unlike Meryl Streep’s Francesca in 'Bridges of Madison County', she OPENED the car door and jumped out of a
marriage, mid-life, to try her hand with someone else.
She fought breast cancer and leukemia and worsening heart disease and won all the battles until they won the war.
Yes, I believe she is the bravest person I’ve ever known. Yet she never lost her poise, and maintained her sense of
humor. She had always told us: “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine, don’t worry”. Just hours before her heart gave out, when she
seemed to know it was coming, she said, most likely in that Brooklyn accent, a la Sid Caesar: “NOW you can worry.”
I only hope I am half as dignified, unafraid, and good-humored when it’s my time to go.
My mother gave me many things, which help define who I am. Her fierce affection for stray animals; her ability to cut
through the blather and offer solutions; her enthusiasm for other cultures and people; her insatiable thirst for knowledge;
her ability to teach and inspire others; her insistence on sending prompt “bread-and-butter” notes; her politeness tinged
with occasional sarcasm; her love of wildflowers and meadows and interesting people and places. Part of her will live in
me, and in all of us, for the rest of our lives.
In my poetry-laden and self-absorbed college years, I often unloaded my deep feelings on my Mom. In one letter to her
from Oxford, I quoted Walter Landor’s refrain, adapted from Sappho:
Mother, I cannot mind my wheel;
My fingers ache, my lips are dry;
Oh, if you felt the pain I feel!
But Oh, who ever felt as I!
I think her wry suggestion was that I wasn’t cut out to be an English major- perhaps I should switch to Psychology. But in
a subsequent letter, she acknowledged all the soul-searching, and suggested it was okay to try to find oneself- just
DON'T make a career out of contemplating your navel. Make something, DO something, BE someone.
At this moment I am happy for my mother, Edith. She lived a very full life, accomplished so much, influenced so many,
never stopped learning, and enjoyed almost every minute.
I miss her though. We all miss her. As Aeschylus wrote:
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart, until,
in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.
Kris Siefert, Professor- School of Social Work:
Edith Gomberg was many things to me—a true friend, a wonderful mentor, and an inspiring, if daunting, role model.
Collaborating with her was not for the faint-hearted, but I truly enjoyed our work together.
One of my favorite things about Edith, and something that may not be as well known as her many scholarly
accomplishments, was her passionate love for and commitment to animals. Edith loved all kinds of animals—cats, dogs,
raccoons, wolves—you name an animal, and Edith was there for it. Except maybe the gophers on her lawn.
In addition to a beloved series of completely spoiled dogs and cats, she supported a colony of feral cats in her yard,
allowing them to live in her screened-in porch in the winter. She called them the "porch pussies". Whenever you drove
up to Edith's house, you had to negotiate cats lying around in the driveway. They wouldn't move—you did.
She also supported a large gang of raccoons that she bought day-old bread for. Imagine the excitement one
Thanksgiving when a raccoon, eager for dinner, entered the kitchen through the back door that someone had left open
and tried to help himself.
She was also a great lover of grey wolves, and had a fine collection of wolf books, wolf calendars, wolf CD's, and a wolf
Edith's home was filled with animal-themed art, high and low. She slept under a Kliban Supercat comforter. When her
beloved dog, Nina, developed cancer, she and Henry nursed her through chemotherapy. Nina got the Supercat
comforter. One night when they were having dinner at our home, it began to thunderstorm. Nina was afraid of
thunderstorms, and after Edith and Henry conferred, Henry went home and brought Nina back with him to our house so
that she wouldn't be alone.
Several years ago, when another beloved dog, Schnitzel, fell down the stairs and severely injured his back, local
veterinarians gave him a year to live, and recommended putting him down. Edith would have none of that. She drove
him to Michigan State's School of Veterinary Medicine. Following his treatment there, Schnitzel not
only recovered, but is still alive today.
When Henry Gomberg died, my husband Kal Dutta and I had a plaque in Henry's memory placed in the Humane Society
Friendship Garden. Last month, we had another plaque for the Friendship Garden engraved as follows:
Dr. Edith Gomberg
A True Friend of Animals
Love, Kris and Kal
Judith Lisansky, daughter (middle child):
As a daughter, I know that I was extremely lucky to have Edith as a role model and a mom. If it were not for her support
and encouragement, I do not think I would have followed my dreams and gone off to study cultural anthropology, do
fieldwork in the Amazon jungle, earn a PhD, write a book, or be a professional anthropologist today.
I remember being somewhat puzzled when I was an undergraduate at UM in the 1960s and feminism, Betty Freidan and
the others were all the rage, because I had always in front of me a high achieving female role model -- my mom --
professor, researcher, writer -- who also had always done laundry, baked cookies, bandaged scrapped knees and
through thick and thin had balanced the multiple demands of all these roles. Because of my mother, it never occurred to
me that women should not try to have it all, do it all.
But it was also always clear to me that my mother made a series of compromises and trade offs in her quest to try to do it
all. I remember her stories about having her first baby and fitting working on her dissertation into the available work
hours after midnight. And although I feel certain that my mother had an illustrious career, I wonder sometimes if she
could not have gone even farther and done better if she had not also been so committed to her marriages and to us, her
kids. I know it was a great challenge to my mother to move to Puerto Rico in 1966 and re-establish herself
professionally, and again in 1971 when Henry wanted to move to Ann Arbor, she never thought twice about quitting her
rewarding job at the University of Puerto Rico and starting again in Ann Arbor, which in the beginning was really tough.
But somehow she made it work.
I will also always remember mom’s advice and perspective about many things. She always said when you are feeling
down, clean the house, when you’re sick put on clean pajamas. In terms of interpersonal relations, I remember the motto
pinned up over her desk in Latin, “Illegitimus non-carborundum” or “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” This
probably could be considered our family motto. And her delight in a quotation that Gerda Seligson gave her in Greek
that translated as, “Before the stupid even the Gods tremble.” I grew up in a home always oriented toward the joy of
learning, the preciousness of books, the endless debates and conversations. If you ever wanted to get out of doing the
dinner dishes or some other chore, all you ever had to say was you had homework to do. Studying pretty much beat out
all other priorities.
Many of my memories of mother are of travels over the years, the many trips she and Henry took all over the US, Europe
and South America, as well as trips we all took together and the many times my mother came to visit in all the places I
lived. A few trips really stand out.
I remember our trip to Israel and us wading into the Dead Sea and strolling in Jerusalem admiring the golden colored
stone used for construction; and going to Cairo with Shlomit and visiting Anwar Sadat’s grave. I remember eating grilled
rabbit in Florence when we stayed with the Hofstaders there in an ancient villa overlooking a path that Michelangelo
supposedly used to walk down. I recall the fine time with mother and Henry and the gang at Sea Beach in Rincon, Puerto
Rico grilling steaks in the moonlight on the beach the night that man first walked on the moon. I remember backpacking
through Europe and meeting mother and Henry for high tea at the elegant Brown’s Hotel in London. I remember that
when Martin Luther King was assassinated, that mother and Henry who were that day in Atlanta, rented a car and went to
his funeral. I recall that mother and Henry visited me in the Brazilian Amazon when I was doing field research there in the
late 1970s and how much we laughed when we found out the lump under their mattress on the floor was a gigantic toad.
My friends and colleagues who met my mother along the way always really took to her, and sometimes I think they were
envious that I had such an incredibly cool mother. But to me all of this endless curiosity and adventuring seemed normal.
No matter how ill she was in the last decade of her life, she continued her intellectual curiosity, and in the months before
her death we discussed several times her idea for an edited volume on perspectives on aging in America. Her dream –
unrealized – was to figure out a way for each of her children to contribute a chapter in their area of expertise. She
wanted a family book.
I prefer to remember my mother at the height of her powers and vibrancy, because she did not much care for being old
and fragile, and the last ten years or so she so resented the indignities that aging and illness brought. I prefer to
remember her pounding her typewriter in her study, whipping up a party, packing for yet another trip, engaged in yet
another noisy dinnertime’s hot debate. I feel that mother, and Henry too, gave me the wonderful gifts of teaching what
was important in life, and what was not – these are things that last a lifetime.