Secretary of State
Secretary of State
Jerry was simply one of the most extraordinary and inspiring people I’ve ever known. We first met nearly forty years ago, when I was in my 20’s and serving as general secretary of Britain’s National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty). Jerry had helped organize and lead a delegation to investigate human rights abuses in Northern Ireland, including internment without trial and Bloody Sunday. And he was one of the rare men in the legal profession who passionately supported women’s rights and opportunities. He was always generous with his advice, introductions to friends and wonderful gifts of books … not to mention the succession of jokes – often against the legal profession – that were a feature of every phone call and meeting.
Jerry and Marcia-Rose became close friends of my husband, William Birtles, and myself and we always enjoyed their company on their regular visits to London and our less frequent ones to Philadelphia. Jerry was delighted when our daughter, Alex, developed a passion for the classics and overwhelmed her with gifts of books, often from his own collection. When she was admitted to Princeton, they could not have been kinder … accommodating not only the three of us in their beautiful apartment, but finding space for Alex’s luggage as well and sending us off to Princeton in their car. I still treasure the memory of sitting with Jerry and Marcia-Rose on their terrace looking out over a beautiful Philadelphia evening.
We were so sad to see Jerry’s health deteriorate. But we continued to correspond and to talk on the phone. Jerry loved words and went on writing beautiful letters, passionate articles and moving memoirs. In the last letter I had from him, earlier this year, he told me he was still the Court appointed Master in the Avandia Drug litigation – a case with 11 million documents! He was clearly delighted that the litigants had stopped appealing his decisions once they realized the trial judge always upheld him. But he also talked about his children and grand-children with deep love, delight and concern. Only briefly did he mention his fall in the snow and painfully cracked ribs.
He was a great man. Bill, Alex and I will miss him very much and we send our love and deep sympathies to Marcia-Rose, Jonathan, Jennifer and all the family.
I am writing to add my thoughts to the wonderful collection of reflections that people have offered these last couple of days. I first met Jerry in 1978 when he interviewed and then hired me to be the director of a new organization he helped found called the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. To say the least he took a chance hiring me. While I was no doubt very enthusiastic, I was also 27 years old, three years out of law school and wet behind the ears. But Jerry always had faith in me, and over the last three decades he was my mentor, colleague and friend. I always knew that he was standing beside me.
Jerry had a rare mix of qualities. He was a highly effective corporate lawyer and advocate, who excelled in private practice, but always focused on serving the broader public interest. He had boundlessmenergy and a knack for taking up the most difficult and seemingly intractable problems. He once wrote about Sisyphus, and compared human rights advocates to this mythical figure who struggled endlessly to push the boulder up the mountain. That was Jerry, always working harder, and devoting himself to pushing dictators and authoritarian to stop abusing the most vulnerable in their societies. Jerry represented the underdogs as well as anyone I know. He had great analytic skills and abilities as an advocate and took special delight in using these skills and his access to power and influence to make the world a better place. He did this as ABA President, and as US Ambassador to the UN Commission on Human Rights, and as the long-time chair of the International League for Human Rights. Jerry was a joiner, but he joined organizations like the ABA to make a difference for human rights. And his life story includes a long list of such accomplishments.
This week we have lost a great friend, a man who made a lasting contribution to our world. Jerry Shestack was a decent, wise and compassionate man, a man who lived a rich and wonderful life with Marciarose and their family. He also was a man who dedicated himself to the pursuit of justice , fairness and the rule of law. He fought for human rights when there were few prominent voices in the arena, and he helped make human rights the mainstream issue that it is today. And he always fought that fight on behalf of the most vulnerable people in our world.
We will miss him greatly.
Michael Posner, U.S. State Department
Thinking about Jerry
He’s about poetry and prose, politics and philosophy, aw and literature, religion and reality. One could say a renaissance man, but that reference is to the past and Jerry was past, present and future,; Shabbas dinner and bar banquet; The American Poetry Center and the American Bar Association , profession and family; worldly and homebody- did he ever love his home! He was like all great people and works of art, both unique and universal. There were no either/ors; always “ands.”
These many years of knowing Jerry and Marciarose have been one of the bright lights in our lives. Though meeting to rarely, accidentally and deliberately, the conversation simply picked up wherever we left off- ten minutes, ten days or ten years before!
Notwithstanding the pains and discomforts of his last years, Jerry lived till he died. He was a man of courage and character. As Shakespeare said, “Cowards die many times before their death; the valiant only taste of death but once. Jerry was a valiant man, a man of character and courage who will be missed terribly AND remembered with great pleasure.
Maricarose, we love you and hope to see you very soon. Today we had the unveiling of my brother in law’s gravestone and thus could not be with you – except in our heats and minds. We will come soon to visit.
Much love from Morey and me,
I wanted to compose my thoughts before writing to you.
First, the service was just beautiful. The eulogies were so touching. I rearked to Justice Alella that just about all in attendance had the very same story: how Jerry, this great and god man, had taken time out to call them, to help them, to make them feel special. What a undefined quality, what a unique quality. Almost forgotten in all of this, is Jerry was one of the finest trial lawyers in the United States, but still- somehow, managed to be so kind and warm to so many others. How he could do so much and always so well is just a miracle.
The two of you were so good at that warmth and gracious kindness. Whether it was Georgetown University Law School, the delicious Blue fish you would serve me or later Send to me on ice or just interacting with friends. You two were always the dynamic duo. You always made me so proud of group W. PA – The Georgetown Corporate Institute. You two always made me smile. That is no easy thing!
I do not think I have cried this much since I lost my beautiful wife Maureen. I am very lucky to have met such warm and lovely people. You, Jerry Maureen and my wife Karen. I am blessed and I am able to appreciate and be thankful for the wonderful friendship and hours of happiness, which you and Jerry have shared with me.
Louis J. Briskman
Executive Vice President
General Counsel CBS
It has taken me so long to write this e-mail to you and I am ashamed. I wake in the night and find that I am thinking back on all the good and funny times we had with Jerry and yourself and how, recently, I have been kina dreading to hear your voice on the phone to tell me what you did. I miss him and think of the world as a smaller place. How much more you must do so. You must also have such deeper and longer memories of him, which I hope help and sustain you.
I read and re-read the eulogies. Whow! I loved the one that said that if Jerry had not found you he would have looked for you until he did find you, and that you made such a giving, sparkling couple; charismatic, available for each other and touching all around you to such good benefit and fun. That Jerry made such difference to many, all around the world, not just in his own home town, that’s something to be proud of, I hope he was and realized it.
I remember sitting next door to a young Russian lawyer, was it Dmitry who gave an eulogy, when we met at the dinner Barbara Judge gave in her high rise flat. He showed me how Jerry mentored the young and displaced, and the effect he had had on this young man. I advised him to go live in Weybridge, Surrey with his family!
And of course in reading the eulogies, I learnt so much about Jerry that had gone before we met. His model for the disappeared persons for the Human Rights organization he did so much work for, and just what a provocative and genuinely enquiring thinker he was, but so tied to his strong values. We need people like him right now in the world! I was listening to Michael Portillo, an ex-Conservative politician turned journalist giving a series on the radio about capitalism, is it working or ripe for a rethink. He made the point that capitalism only works when allied to social and moral concerns for those who fall below.
I loved the Holy Trinity of Human Rights, Marciarose and jokes! Got him in a phrase! I told you that we were on a boat in Sicily when I picked up your call, and we had been talking about you and Jerry just the evening before, what fun we had with you both, what a lawyer Jerry was, and his jokes… Bob often retells the one about the drunken husband returning home… “I’ll take questions from the floor”
I really loved the eulogy given by Rosalie Abella, so deft in the writing, with humor and strength, just like Jerry, a fitting tribute and friend.
Dear Marciarose, I think of you in your beautiful flat so full of life, but missing jerry. He was wonderful and we think ourselves blessed to have met him and been touched by him.
All our love,
Sara and Sir Robert Owen (High court judge)
I returned home from Singapore last week to the sad news of Jerry’s passing. Please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers. After reading all of the beautiful tributes, including David Smith’s poignant eulogy, the world agrees that Jerry was indeed a wonderful gift to us all.
Jerry encouraged and empowered everyone around him to relentlessly pursue scholarship, invest themselves in their community and the world at large, and finally, to life live with an intrepid spirit and outpouring of goodwill.
Both you and Jerry have been wonderful mentors to me and our friendship is something I will always cherish.
Three or four times a year Jerry would stop in the gallery just for a visit. He would come by usually in the afternoon with the pretense of strategizing about business, but after a while, his visits would be consumed with finding information on an esoteric historical event, person or place… What was the first map to show Mother Bethel’s Church? How many Jews were living in Philadelphia in the 1780’s? Any engravings of Ben Franklin’s favorite instrument, the glass armonica? Any books by Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges? I will miss those visits and will forever be grateful to have spent those afternoons with Jerry.
I recall one visit in Particular that always charmed me. One of our clients from Minnesota was visiting and their son, a physically and mentally challenged young man was waiting patiently as his parents sifted through our maps. He was trying to name all of the sate capitals as he looked at a modern day map from his school. Jerry was quite taken with Chris and sat with him. Together, they proceeded to work their way across the country. Jerry would offer up clues and Chris would guess the capital. At one point, the doorbell rang and one of Philadelphia’s most prominent businessman walked in and immediately said hello to Jerry. Jerry greeted him warmly and shared the ongoing project with him. Jerry encouraged the gentleman to sit with them and in Jerry’s words, “we have just crossed the Mason-Dixon line and could use your help.” It was so lovely, so Jerry.
Marciarose, I hope in the coming weeks and months you will take comfort in the wonderful marriage and life you & Jerry shared. I hope you will always know that I care and am always here for you.
I know you have read and heard many expressions of praise, respect and admiration for Jerry. Permit me to add my personal memories of the friendship and help I received from him. I regarded Jerry as a mentor and source of advice and assistance, and he never let me down. I also have great admiration for you, and I hope you take comfort from the knowledge of how much the love and support of his beautiful and talented wife meant to him!
More than seven years ago, I had occasion to send a not to Jerry congratulating him on one of the many honors he had received. He sent me a thank you note dated April 14, 2004, which I have kept on my desk since (copy enclosed). Typical of Jerry’s brilliant mind and his gracious and unselfish nature, in one brief sentence he turned my praise of him into his praise of me.
Jerry was a giant, blessed with huge talent and the love of a talented woman. No one who spent any time with him will ever forget him.
David H. Marion
We think of you often and pray that the out pouring of support and love from friends and your wonderful family is helping to sustain you during the difficult period of Jerry’s loss. We were so touched by all the marvelous remembrances expressed at the funeral service and at the Shiva service we attended. We hope it was some comfort (and Jonathon’s remarks were an absolute stitch!) We came away with an even richer appreciation of and admiration for Jerry’s remarkable life and your partnership together than we already had. What a mark on the world he has made and left for us!
We loved the various tributes and hope you can capture them and maybe even corral them into one document. When we lost Claire it was very cathartic to do something like that. We wanted something to savor and enjoy later. I thought you might like to have a copy of what we did for Clare as an example of such an idea in case it inspires.
We were sorry to leave the shiva service before it ended but we had to pick up our son, Andrew. If we had the chance to speak we would have remarked on the intensity and lively cross section of people gathered in your home- all sharing in common their love for you and Jerry- and how similar a feeling it was to the many wonderful July 4th gatherings we have enjoyed at your home over the years. A real gift that the two of you had for bringing people together that way.
We are thinking of you.
Sarah and Dan Walford
Words cannot express my sorrow at the loss of Jerry, while not unexpected and perhaps inevitable, it is still so difficult to face. Jerry and I met over 50 ears ago when I was a young associate and he was already an experienced, well-recognized and respected attorney. He taught me so much in sharing his practical wisdom. But most importantly, he encouraged me by showing me respect as that I had hope that someday some way being female would not be a disadvantage. His egalitarian attitude and advocacy for civil rights is a legacy not just for me bur for our city and nation.
Over the years I have been privileged to get to know you and your loving relationship as husband and wife, parents and grandparents. Welcoming me into your home has meant so much to me. A highlight of my life was being able to support and vote for Jerry as President of the ABA- what a gift to the country that was!
As one who has also lost a dearly beloved, you have my most sincere sympathy. But the wonderful memories will sustain you and help you survive with the exquisite grace and dignity only you possess. As for me and the countless others whom Jerry was as dear, his memory will always be a blessing.
Norma L. Shapiro