Edgar Gunther, RIP

This blog has been quiet for a few days because my father, Edgar Gunther, died last Saturday morning. My dad was 88 years old. He’d suffered since last fall from an irreversible heart ailment that left him increasingly frail; his death was peaceful and not unexpected. But you are never quite prepared for the loss of a parent. I’m writing about him today because, despite an often-difficult relationship, his experiences inevitably helped shape my thinking on a number of topics relevant to this blog…immigration, globalization and religion, among them.

Immigration: My dad had lived in Greenwich Village since the late 1990s.  This week, as I’ve wandered around New York, making funeral arrangements, seeing family and thinking about his life. I couldn’t help noticing: The waiters, the cab drivers, the doormen—they’re all immigrants. So were the health care workers who cared for my dad during the last six months, in particular a wonderful Filipino woman who lived with him for the past month or so and offered her love and care.

My dad’s is a classic immigrant story. A Jew born in the Saar region of Germany in 1921, he escaped to New York with his family as a teenager in the late 1930s, fleeing Nazi persecution. Powered by his ambition, energy and intelligence, he created a rich and interesting life for himself.  He learned English, worked his way through City College of New York – tuition was free — by doing odd jobs, including a stint as a short-order cook. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, translating German documents. (His younger brother, who, of course, was also an immigrant, also served in the U.S. Army and died in Italy fighting the Nazis.) After the war my dad went to Paris, and got a PhD in economics from the Sorbonne, thanks to the GI bill, which he thought was just about the greatest law ever passed by Congress. He came back to America to make himself a business success—he worked at FORTUNE magazine (as I would, decades later) and then with a friend started an investment company and moved to London. He put his three sons through very expensive schools (Yale, Harvard Law, Michigan, Wharton) and we left without a nickel of debt.

Maybe that’s why I can’t understand why so many Americans resent or fear immigrants. What a poorer place—in every sense of the word—America would be without them.

Globalization: My dad thought of himself as an American—he shed his German accent quickly —but he understood that the world was flat long before Tom Friedman popularized that notion. He spoke French and Spanish, as well as German, and he lived for years in London and Paris. His company, called NORAM, enabled middle-class people in developing countries to invest their money safely in the U.S.  (Yes, I know that’s is a controversial idea, but I believe that money, people and goods should all be able to travel freely across borders.)

My dad traveled everywhere, and although he was wealthy, he would try to eat at a local place and never in a chain hotel. This past winter was hard for him because of his illness but the winter before that –at age 87—he lived in a small beach resort in Cambodia, in a hotel that he was proud to say cost him only $20 a night.

This worldview, too, affected me. He urged me to read the Financial Times instead of the Wall Street Journal because its international coverage is  superior and its point-of-view less parochial. He was right. I’ve never been able to get worked up about the need to preserve “American jobs.” I mean, don’t Chinese and Mexican and Indonesian people deserve jobs, too? Is the world better off because toys are made in Shenzhen, cars in Japan and software in Silicon Valley? Of course it is.

Religion: My dad all but abandoned Judaism after he came to America. He wanted to assimilate and, surely because of what he’d seen as s a kid, he worried that Jews could be victimized here. He sent my brothers and me to a WASP-y sailing camp on Cape Cod. More recently, he got us German passports, so we could leave this country if things turned nasty. By contrast, I rediscovered Judaism a decade or so ago and subsequently wrote a book, Faith and Fortune, arguing that business people and companies that do good will over time also do well. I continue to believe that universal religious principles—love thy neighbor, tell the truth, be a steward of the earth—can and should help curb the worst practices of market capitalism. My dad was more of a cynic.

Last week, I talked to my dad about his funeral. He said he didn’t need a rabbi to preside but, to my surprise, he asked that a few Hebrew prayers be read. So we will bury him today and read the Mourner’s Kaddish, as it has been read for thousands of years.

We’ll also read this excerpt from Life After Death, by Laura Gilpin (1950-2007), a poet, nurse and health care activist. 

The things I know:

How the living go on living

and how the dead go on living with them.

So that in a forest

even a dead tree casts a shadow

and the leaves fall one by one

and the branches break in the wind

and the bark peels off slowly

and the trunk cracks

and the rain seeps in through the cracks

and the trunk falls to the ground

and the moss covers it

and in the spring the rabbits find it

and build their nest

inside the dead tree.

So that nothing is wasted in nature or in love.

May my father’s memory be a blessing to those who knew him.

Edgar Gunther

Edgar Gunther

Comments

  1. Lori Captain says:

    Marc, I am sorry for your loss. Your father sounds like a fascinating person.

  2. My condolences for your loss. God bless you all.

  3. Good Mourning, Marc

    YOU are a blessing your father bestowed on all of us. The song of the sea does not end at the shore. –Vivian Greene

  4. A beautiful tribute.

  5. All at Context send their condolences, Marc. We wish you and your family well.

  6. Lee Weinstein says:

    What a wonderful post. Our thoughts will be with you today Marc.

  7. Marc – What a wonderful tribute to your father. Thank you for the peek into his life. My thoughts are with you. Annie

  8. Cindy Hoots says:

    Marc – my thoughts are with you and your family today. Thank you for the glimpse into your father’s amazing life. Be well.

  9. Marc, my condolences and my gratitude to you for sharing this deeply personal and touching perspective.

  10. Marc,

    What an extraordinary life your dad led, and what a legacy he left behind. Many nests will be built, I predict! My condolences.

    Dennis

  11. Marc, My heart is with you and your family. I too have been thinking in similar ways about both my mother and father, who died this year, five months apart. Now I see so much of who I am is from who they where–and I am very happy about it. Proud. Like you are of your dad. Their shadows will be at our back forever. Bob

  12. Mark Shachner says:

    Thank you Marc for sharing your love of your father and his principles. My thoughts are with you and your family.
    Mark

  13. Wuiyi Liang Li says:

    Edgar Gunther Rest in peace.

  14. What a wonderful tribute, I was really moved and I really feel for you – it shows what a great parent does… through love and guidance help shape the life of those they love the most, their children, in this case you Mark. My worst day will be when my father passes, I’m scared to think of it happening, but you’ve inspired me, while he is alive, to connect with him more deeply and cherish how, through his love, he has helped shape me. My deep sympathy and thanks Mark, Jeremy

  15. Michael Kane says:

    Marc,

    My thoughts are with you and your family. Thank you for writing about your father. I can see that he inspired you and many others with his love and his work. We can honor his memory with our lives and our work.

    Michael

  16. Therese Sullivan says:

    I know that I’m not ready to lose my mother – and she is 93. Yet, her quality of life is so poor, having had strokes that have left her with little physical mobility and still a sound mind. I like to hear stories about people like your father who led vibrant lives almost up to that last breath. My impression – given the Cambodian adventure, is that he still had the will and bravery to take that next journey – this time into death. Then there is the sentiment in your beautiful poem that all such journeys are circular. Thanks for sharing his story, Marc. And please accept my sympathies.

  17. Dear Marc,

    I enjoyed very much your tribute to your dad. I knew him for many years, spending time with him at the New Orleans investment conference, Eris Society meetings in Aspen, Colorado, and in Europe…..He was always so generous. He even invited our family to live in his apartment in London one summer in the 1980s, which was surprising given that we had four little children running around in his apartment with expensive items all around.

    I was always impressed with his tremendous knowledge and experience. He spoke 4-5 languages, I believe–German, French, Spanish, English, maybe Italian. I never knew much of how he made his money, but it clear he was financially independent, living as a PT (permanent traveler). I remember when he was living in Argentina and pursuing some young beautiful artist, and told me all about the art world, one of his passions. He was crazy about art. He was quite a character.

    We had a business relationship off and on, as he was a firm believer in investing in Swiss franc annuities, which I recommended from time to time in my newsletter, “Forecasts & Strategies.” We often differed on politics, although I suspect he would share your libertarian views about immigration.

    The last time I saw Ed was last year when he came with old friend Michael Checkan to dinner at our home in Dobbs Ferry. He looked good, and still had that ridiculous ponytail. tale. Who knows? Maybe he had a tatoo. He always thought of himself as young and free as a bird. He lived a full life. God bless him.

    We plan to name one of our rooms after him at my big show FreedomFest next year.

    With fond memories, AEIOU,

    Mark Skousen

  18. Elena Keller says:

    Dear Marc,

    I work with Michael Checkan. I only had the pleasure of speaking with your father on the phone. It was usually to confirm either a meeting with or future phone call with Michael. He was always gracious and took those few extra minutes to just chat with me. I always hung up the phone with a smile and was sorry the conversation was so short.

    I recently lost my 88 year old, first generation Italian, mother. I read this poem at her mass. It gave me great comfort to imagine loved ones ready to greet her. I hope she was there to greet your father.

    My thoughts are with you and your family, and with Michael, who lost a most treasured friend. … Elena Keller

    I am standing upon the seashore.
    A ship at my side spreads her white
    sails to the morning breeze and starts
    for the blue ocean.

    She is an object of beauty and strength
    I stand and watch her until at length
    she hangs like a speck of white cloud
    just where the sea and sky come
    to mingle with each other

    Then someone at my side says;
    “There, she is gone!”

    “Gone where?”

    Gone from my sight. That is all.
    She is just as large in mast and hull
    and spar as she was when she left my side
    and she is just as able to bear her
    load of living freight to her destined port.
    Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

    And just at the moment when someone
    at my side says, “There, she is gone!”
    there are other eyes watching her coming,
    and other voices ready to take up the glad shout,
    “Here she comes!”

  19. Tanja von Rüden says:

    Dear Marc,

    What a wonderful tribute to your dad! Thank you for sharing this information.

    Dr. Klemm found and forwarded this link to my parents and they to me. Your dad was so kind to host me and my parents during a wonderful week in his appartement in NY late in August last year.

    It was the first time that I met him in person and he will remember him all of my life as a multicultural, open minded and curious men. I was surprised to saw him working with an apple notebook and taking cambodian-lessons by using an I-Pod! He took the time to talke with me about his immigration and his childhood in Rehlingen where I was born. He shows his art collection whilst telling about the circumstances he start and extend his collection.

    And he tell us about his sons. He was so proud about you and his grand childs! He told me on the phone that he was so happy that you and your family spend as much time at his appartement and on the hospital.

    I’m so proud that I had the chance to get an idea about this fascinating, energetic and suprising men!

    For my parents he was a very special person, too. A kind of a paternal friend. In his time in Paris he assist a friend of the family in business matters. He chared with my mother the love and interest in art and art work. She like to remember the wonderful furniture in his appartement there.

    Dear Marc, we are so sorry abouth the surprising dead of Edgar. Please take our sympathy for the loss of your father.

    In deep compassion,

    Tanja

  20. I’m so grateful to all of you who took the time to comment here. Your kind words have meant a lot to me. I’m taking some time to mourn and rest, but I’m also eager to get back to my regular life. Best, Marc

  21. Dear Marc,

    Your dad was a good guy, great to work for. I helped him type his correspondence on the computer in 2000 twice a week at his apartment on . His was a rich and good life, his contribution to art and artists in Latin America significant. My condolences to you and your family.

    Jaleh

  22. carlos bogni says:

    mark, un abrazo, acabo de recibir la noticia, estoy muy triste, trabaje con tu padre diez años durante mi permanencia en ny, justo ayer lo llame y le deje un mensaje en la grabadora.
    tengo mucha pena.

  23. Adrian Day says:

    Your father lived a full and rich life, and was a free spirit (Mark Skousen reminds us of that ponytail!). Always interesting, several of us frequently remark on a wonderful evening at Vong in New York, when he joined a group of us, most of whom he did not know. It remains a “benchmark” for a fun evening. Always generous, helping friends and unknown young Latin artists, for example. He was a genuine friend. Once I needed a favor, and offered to help me without hesitation and without discussion. I shall never forget that kindness.

  24. Matt Quinn says:

    Marc, I am sorry for your loss. I remember Ed well; our family stayed in his place in London (Gunter Mews was it?) way back when. My dad died three years ago (was still living in New York); Gertrude moved to Atlanta not to far from us a year or so later.
    Best, Matt (sometime reader of your blog!)

  25. Jerry Brady says:

    I enjoyed your tribute, Marc. It was honest, respectful and what you could say. Growing up in a predictable and conservative environment as I did, I have had a hard time imagining someone living so much for himself and his interests as your father. Stay home, act your age! But I’ve come to think that when one lives honestly it frees those around him to live honestly too, and to take chances. I admire the way he lived the end of his life. I wrote a column some months back about the odd fact that people who are “religious” are three times more likely not to have living wills and to go on living near the end with greater suffering for themselves and their families than those who are not. I cited Ed as a good example for all of us. He had lived his life as he wished and it was okay to let it go. This is wise and courageous. It seems to have followed naturally from the way he lived. I have a friend, Forrest Church, who has been pastor to a Unitarian church on the Upper East Side for a couple decades who write a book, Love and Death, about the prospect of his imminent death from cancer. He told me he had done everything he needed to do and it was okay to go now–although he continues to live and is, what else, writing another book. Both provide an example for which we can learn and be grateful.
    You have been a good son and can rest knowing that is true.

  26. wow never knew him or you before a minute ago im truly touched and am honored to have read this post.

    RIP Edgar Gunther

  27. April James says:

    Dear Marc – I am sorry that I am only reading this now, 22nd November ’09. I had the pleasure to work for your father when he was living in Gunter Grove in London, from 1981 – 1983. I worked for Investor’s Administrative Services in London. When he was in London, I used to travel to his flat and work with him. When he was travelling I used to go to the flat once a week to sort the mail, deal with any ‘phone messages. I remember that I always had to buy a copy of the Financial Times for him, while he was away, in particular the Saturday edition.

    After working in London I moved to Hong Kong and unfortunately lost contact with him. He was a wonderful man and I thoroughly enjoyed working for him. I often think of him fondly and am very sorry that I did not have a chance to make contact with him before he passed away. It is purely by chance this evening that I thought of him and typed his name into Google and your very moving tribute came up. My very best wishes to you all kind regards April

    • Chris Weber says:

      Hello April,
      I remember you when you were April Jardine, and I was living at the Gunter Grove flat.
      You were going to be married to a soldier, as I recall.
      I hope all has gone well with you.
      Best
      Chris Weber

  28. sertillanges bernard says:

    Cher Marc-Je suis bien triste d’apprendre la disparition d’Edgar que je connaissais depuis plus de 15 ans. Nous avons été des amis tres proche et je regrette de ne pouvoir venir le voir a NY en juillet comme il me l’avais demandé….il voulait me rendre mon invitation a Sihanoukville. De retour au Cambodge tous nos amis communs me demandent la date de son arrivée! Ici il est toujours vivant et nous ne l’oublierons pas. Je suis tres heureux d’avoir pu partagé ses dernieres années lors de ses voyages au Cambodge il etait si heureux après avoir touché le sol de ce pays dont il aimait sa simplicité et son hospitalté.
    Marc recevez toutes mes condoléances ….si vous désirez quelques photos de votre père envoyez moi votre email et je vous les enverrais. bien à vous. -Bernard Sertillanges

  29. Jim Swander says:

    Marc,

    I am an American living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I spent many nights sharing discussions with your father in many different restuarants here. He shared wonderful stories which showed how proud he was of all his family. I knew he had a serious illness, as he had expressed, in a few emails, his desire to travel, and return to Cambodia, but the doctors would not let him travel. I am sorry to hear of his passing. The good part is that he lived life to the fullest. He brought joy to many of us who met him. He remined me a lot of my father, who passed a few years ago.

    I used to share stories of some of my travels with him. I have just returned from Beijing and worked on a travelogue on Sunday afternoon. It reminded me I had not heard from your father, and hoped he was still fine. I decided to Google search him to see if I could find one of his family. I did not want to find your story, telling me of his passing. Your story closed a chapter on “Ed”, who I considered a friend, yet it open the door to communicate with you. If you ever want information on his travels to Cambodia, just let me know.

    I share the loss with you,
    Jim

  30. Julieta González says:

    Dear Marc,

    I am in Chile curating an exhibition and just heard about Mr. Gunther’s passing yesterday from one of his Chilean friends. I had no idea and am very sorry for your loss. I worked for your father when I was studying in NY, and helped him decorate the apartment (I selected most of the funkier furniture). We never saw eye to eye when it came to art and had very heated discussions on the topic, nonetheless it was fun working for him. I organized his archive of newspaper clippings which i found very interesting, there was a section devoted to the Asian financial crisis of the mid nineties. When I gave a lecture in London, he flew to see me talk. I last spoke to Mr. Gunther in december 2008, I called to tell him about my new job at Tate Modern, I thought he would be happy to know, we chatted for a while but he did not tell me he was sick, I promised to see him if I went to NY …

    I will always remember him on the move and as a very active person, admirable for someone his age.

    Good bye Mr. Gunther.

    julieta

  31. Elaine Litvack says:

    Dear Marc: I was totally blown away by your tribute to your father. For some reason I was thinking of him today and decided to “google” him as I hadn’t heard from him for a few years – I didn’t know that he had died but I had a feeling and was hesitant to just try calling him.

    As a young person I worked for Allen Wayne and your father was a client of mine while he was at Fortune and later when he was working with the “fund”. I met you and your brothers in Croton years ago and knew a great deal about all of you as your father was extremely proud of his sons.

    After I left Allen Wayne and married, we lost touch for awhile until my husband and I ran into him at a Monetary conference. My husband Julie and your father became friends and the three of us met at any number of places including Paris and London. When we moved to Tucson, AZ, Ed came and spent a week with us.

    The last time I saw your father was soon after my husband died in 2005/2006. For some reason I couldn’t stop thinking of him today. I send my best wishes and belated condolences to you, Noel and Andy. When you speak with your mother, please send her my best wishes as well.

    Sincerely, Elaine Litvack

  32. Mis condolencias, conocí a don Edgar en Chile en 1993 cuando gané un concurso que el auspiciaba, y luego en Paris cuando el me llevó alla a conocer el arte en Europa
    gracias sr Gunther por haber apoyado a los artistas del fin del mundo

  33. Carolina Labbe says:

    Muy estimado Marc:
    Siento mucho la muerte de tu padre. No lo puedo creer!
    El no deberia haberse ido tan rapidol Lo echo mucho de menos.

    Un hombre admirable, extraordinario,de una sensiblidad e inteligencia increibles; su sencillez, su modestia al relacionarse con sus amistades,etc. Y de una gran generosidad, amaba compartir lo suyo. Su gusto por la buena mesa y las artes . su entrega a los artistas jovenes. Fuera de serie.
    Edgar fue mi gran amigo, lo quise mucho. el podia ser encantador y reirse de si mismo, era todo un personaje, un hombre fantastico y lleno de energia.
    Lo conoci para el Premio Gunther en Santiago de Chile en 1993. Y el se intereso en mi trabajo.
    Vino muchas veces a Chile, quedo encantado con nuestra culinaria, arte y los paisajes del Sur de Chile.

  34. Sonia Rubio says:

    Dear Marc,

    I am really sorry about his loss. I worked for him in 2004 while I was in New York. He was an amazing person and he helped me so much!!!! I will always remember his support, his advices, his big heart, his trust…

    Rest in peace Edgar

    Sonia Rubio

  35. Dear Mark, Andy, and Noel, Yesterday, 3/14/11, I just learned of your father’s death, so perhaps this note will feel redundant. Your Dad was an important person to me – a friend, a mentor, almost like family – through our ties to the Koven family. He was an incredibly complex man, as you very well know, who could be difficult and opinionated to say the least, but he also had so many genuinely wonderful qualities that made him lovable, a caring, good friend, and fun to be with. I’m truly very sorry he’s gone, and sorry for what you – his sons – have had to deal with.
    If there is anything I can do, even at this late date, please let me know.
    I’d really love to speak with each one of you.
    845 679 6363. Sylvia Wolf Levitan.

  36. Prue Barrett says:

    I had the priviledge of meeting your father when I worked as a stewardess/chef onboard a yacht called Rodean in the Mediterranean and your Dad was a guest. If my memory serves me correctly, it was your brother who had charterd the yacht. Sadly for your Dad, on the first afternoon he was onboard the yacht he slipped and fell down the stairs.

    Strangely it was this bad luck for Edgar that allowed me to spend so much time with him. Twice that week, when the others would go off to a restaurant, I would sit with your Dad and he invited me to dine with him on the aft deck of the yacht.

    Edgar told me all about going to Cuba and being in the movie the Man From Havana. This is how I found your site, I was watching Buena Vista Social Club again after many many years and remembered that Compay Segundo died, during the week that your Dad was onboard the boat. Edgar told me how he knew him. I am now living in New York and thought wow, I should look up and see if Edgar is still here. I am really very sorry to hear of his passing. I enjoyed his company so much, he was very gentle and kind.

    My sincerest condolensces to you and your family.
    Prue Barrett

  37. Francis Caruso says:

    Hello Marc
    I appreciated the note about you father’s passing but did not reply then. I was in London when he died and was unable to attend either the funeral or the memorial. Never-the-less I still think of him often and did so just the other day when I viewed some Latin American art. I told my friend that Ed would have liked the painting that we were viewing…then I told my friend about your dad. He was, as someone already said, a strong stubborn and sometimes hard to get on with man who had strong convictions. But, he was truly insightful, always entertaining, generous, fun, and as you know, very intelligent. Our conversations were never boring and always enlightening.

    I met Edgar about 20 years ago through a mutual friend in London. We continued to met irregularly over the years as our paths continued to cross.

    Though I did not see a great deal of him in 2009 we did go to Bangkok and Thailand together for a month over the Christmas holidays in 2008 where we had great fun escaping the cold USA.

    He was always proud of you and your brothers and had no grudges against your mother. May he rest in peace.

  38. Litzler Patrice says:

    Bonjour Marc,
    Je viens d’apprendre le décès de votre père que j’ai bien connu, nous avions fait connaissance à Cuba en 2000, puis nous nous sommes revus à Paris et dans le sud de la France à plusieurs reprises, il est aussi venu à mon mariage en 2004 à Fortaleza, puis a connu ma fille Louise à qui il a offert une magnifique petite cuillère design d’Angleterre que sa maman Danny kelly conserve soigneusement pour elle
    J’ai passé de magnifiques moments en compagnie de votre père, nous avions des projets de voyages en Asie et à Madagascar qui malheureusement ne se sont pas concrétisés. Toute la famille était également invitée à N Y, là encore il avait eu un problème à sa jambe et nous attendions qu’il se remette pour venir le voir.
    Je ne sais pas si vous êtes le fils de Florianopolis, mais il ma souvent parlé de lui et souhaitait que je le rencontre étant donné que je réside maintenant au Brésil. je me doutais bien qu’un problème grave était survenu car je n’arrivais plus à le joindre, ni par tél. ni par e-mail. Ce n’est que le 4 juillet en passant à Rio que sur le vol en partance pour Floriano que j’ai remarqué un couple dont le Monsieur avait un air de famille avec votre père, j’ai hésité à lui parlé, mais c’est ce qui m’a décidé à faire des recherches et en savoir plus.
    Ma famille et moi vous présentons nos sincères condoléances.
    N’hesitez pas à me contacter si un jour vous passez à Fortaleza nous serions ravi de vous recevoir et de vous connaitre.
    Amicalement
    Patrice

  39. maryvonne bourdonnec says:

    mes condoléances cher marc que je ne connais pas;mais je connaissais votre père rencontré en argentine,peut etre quand j’y travaillais à baires,et aussi à paris ou j’habite,nous aimions la peinture tous les deux;je crois comprendre qie vous etes écrivain,merci de m’envoyer par mail la liste de vos dernières publications et si elles sont traduites en français.m.bourdonnec

  40. Fernando Silberstein says:

    Je viens d’apprendre le décès de votre père que j’ai rencontré à quelques reprises à Paris au début des années 90. Je vous envoie mes condoléances.
    Il était un homme très agréable et sympathique, simple et direct. Il fréquenta le milieu d’art et des artistes. Je me suis toujours souvenu d’un commentaire qu’il m’a fait sur la soutenance de sa thèse à Paris.

Speak Your Mind

*