Friday, August 30, 2013

The Death of Allan S. Gotthelf

Friday, August 30, 2013
I just learned that my cousin Allan, just 10 months younger than I am, died today after surviving about 20 years with advanced prostate cancer.  I'm sending out this message to avoid possible confusion when his obituary appears, as I expect it will.  He had been a long-time academic with a number of publications in philosophy.  

The likelihood of confusion, based on the near-identity of our names (note the double LL and the middle initial that distinguish us), is enhanced by significant common biographical details, such as simultaneous attendance at PS 159 and Stuyvesant High School, although separated by one grade.  Then, while I was in City College, Allan was in Brooklyn College.  With graduate school -- me Cornell, him Penn State and Columbia -- our paths permanently diverged.  

Allan pursued his graduate studies, eventually getting a doctorate from Columbia, and taught for decades.  I took a far more convoluted path, emerging from graduate school scathed, with a token master's degree, got into computer programming by chance, spent 30 years in (and sometimes out of) business, and finally found my niche in law school, when many of my peers were retiring, which prepared me for my present role as a career law clerk.  Allan has a list of distinguished publications in philosophy and continued his research and writing until his last days.  I seek out Chinese restaurants and distribute random observations about menus and (hu)mankind.  

Our divergence was more than geographic and bibliographic.  Allan was a leading acolyte of Ayn Rand, and many of his publications deal with her ideas.  I, on the other hand, was never attracted to her work, her arrogant certainty and the cultish devotion to her view of rugged individuals besting man and nature.  I believe that, if video games had been introduced 40 or 50 years earlier, much of the attention that she drew from adolescents would have instead been directed to the navigation of torturous travails by the proper application of thumbs.

In any case, Allan and I saw each other in recent years, enjoying good meals and conversation.  I marveled at his staying power in spite of his grave medical condition, and his pursuit of cultural and intellectual interests.  He returned to the classroom after his official retirement, which was only a nominal designation.  He continued to travel extensively, and, no doubt, left friends and admiring students over a vast territory.  

Allan leaves only one sister and a collection of cousins, beginning with my brother and myself.  I'll miss him, but I have to hope that I am spared some explaining when people find that I am still around.

1 comment:

  1. thank you for this write up. would have been interesting to meet him. tibadel l'chaim arukim. (no translation. you have to figure it out).