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2018-02-09 digital edition
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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2019 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved. 


February 9, 2018  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

Local man leads simple life; leaves millions to college

By BRUCE LOWITT Jewish Press

Seymour Bluestone Seymour Bluestone All it took was a visit 18 years ago – the only visit Seymour Bluestone ever made to Brandeis University – to convince him that the university in Waltham, MA., was where he wanted to establish his legacy.

It began when Bluestone, a retired pediatrician born in Brooklyn, made some small gifts to the school in the 1990s at the request of family friends. In 2001 he created the Jesse F. and Dora H. Bluestone Scholarship in his parents’ memory.

And when he died Sept. 29 at age 96, he left the university an $8.4-million bequest.

“He was so frugal. He wouldn’t spend a dime on himself,” said Merrianne Sotnick, a neighbor, friend and retired hospice nurse. “He had old shoes. He had an old jacket. I said, ‘Can we buy a new jacket?’ He said, ‘There’s no need. I’m going to be gone before I can use it.’ We had no idea how much money he had. He lived almost like a pauper.”

Students from Brandeis University meet with Seymour Bluestone at his Clearwater home in 2013. (L-R) Bluestone’s neighbor Chris Sotnick, a student from Kenya, Bluestone, a student from India and Brandeis professor Laurence Simon. Students from Brandeis University meet with Seymour Bluestone at his Clearwater home in 2013. (L-R) Bluestone’s neighbor Chris Sotnick, a student from Kenya, Bluestone, a student from India and Brandeis professor Laurence Simon. The Sotnicks, Chris and Merrianne, lived in the apartment next to Bluestone’s at the Hampton, a senior residence in Clearwater, for his last six years (he had moved in four years earlier).

“He was already 90 but pretty okay when we first met him,” she said. “He got around without the need for a walker. He’d work out daily on an exercise bicycle but after a while he started getting short of breath. He needed a pacemaker. I went with him to the hospital so he wouldn’t be alone. … Then there was a bout with cancer. That’s probably when I started being a nurse as well as a friend.”

“He watched the news every day – and Lawrence Welk. He loved Lawrence Welk,” Chris said. “He was extremely intelligent, started college when he was 16, and he was all about education, all about knowledge and all about world peace. It disturbed him so much, things that were going on in the world and how people were treated.”

Prof. Laurence Simon, founding director of the Sustainable International Development (SID) program at Brandeis’ Heller School for Social Management, said from his office that Bluestone “had come up to consider the possibility of a gift to the university, and he was introduced to a few people on campus who were in programs that (the school) thought he might be interested in.”

A lunch with Simon at the faculty club was the beginning of a long friendship. “I knew it would be an excellent relationship when he handed me a business card – he was retired by then so I guess it was more of a calling card – and along with all his contact information was a little phrase, One World,” Simon said.

“I told him that at orientation every year I had an event for incoming students from all over the world that I called the One World Cafe. So that phrase was part of the attraction for each other, that we had this rather idealistic view of putting people together from all faiths and nationalities and walks of life.”

Bluestone’s bequest will provide financial aid for up to five students in the SID program in future years, and support research and program development in the Center for Global Development and Sustainability, also at the Heller School.

Bluestone graduated from Cornell and the New York University School of Medicine and held a number of medical positions, including serving for 10 years as director of the New York State Rehabilitation Hospital.

He spoke French, German, Italian, Spanish and Hebrew as well as English, the Sotnicks said. He loved his computer, was on it all the time, receiving and sending jokes to people all over the world. He was never Seymour. Always Sy, “and he would sign his e-mails ‘Sigh,’” Merrianne said. “ ‘Con amore (With love), Sigh.’ ”

Simon visited Bluestone annually, often bringing along a couple of his international students. “He just adored these visits. … Even in his old age Sy would sit there speaking to them in French or Spanish. He was incredibly intellectually curious and had a tremendous knowledge of world history and cultures. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say he considered those visits among the highlights of his year.”

Bluestone also served as a medical officer in the U.S. Army in Korea during 1945-47, reaching the rank of captain. “He married at age 39 in Jamaica – the island, not Queens,” Chris Sotnick said. “His wife died many years ago – I don’t think he ever mentioned her name – and they had no children.

“He was very political, ultra-liberal. He gave to charities, to hospice, and to Democratic causes. He voted for Bernie Sanders. He could not stand the current president. Loved Obama. And he was very agnostic. He lost his religion. He saw what was going on in the world and he lost his faith.”

Still, the Sotnicks said, Bluestone observed many Jewish traditions. He kept strictly kosher, and he would light Yahrzeit candles on the anniversary of family deaths.

“He did not want anybody to know he was a doctor,” Merrianne said. “He was very humble and very private. … He just didn’t want any attention at all. He didn’t want any (funeral) service. No memorial, no obituary, nothing.

“He left very specific instructions,” Merrianne added. “He wanted to be cremated, and we took his ashes to Bay Pines (Veterans Hospital in St. Petersburg), where his brother’s ashes were buried.”

The Sotniks put a Star of David on his grave marker. “He would have liked that,” Merrianne said. “He lost his religion but he was proud of his heritage.”

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