When I was a boy, my father's cousin Milton was a giant. He stood over 6 feet tall and weighed more than 300 pounds. Little did I know then that he was also a giant among his academic peers, a history professor at the University at Buffalo who was renowned and revered. I also couldn't have imagined that Milton's memory would be rekindled this spring, years after his death in 1987, in a fashion that can only be described as "coming full circle."
Cousin Milton taught at the university for 32 years and was one of the most influential professors in UB's History Department. His commitment to student life and teaching was legendary, according to his former colleagues and students. My wife, Shira, was one of those students and recalls with a smile his unusual grading system: "I throw your papers from the top of the steps down the stairway," he would say, "and the ones that land closest to the door get A's." Shira got a "B" in his class.
Milton was a unique character in and out of the classroom. Afraid to fly, he would travel for days by train from Buffalo to Hollywood to research film history, one of his topics of expertise. But my memories of Milton are of him taking me to his synagogue and sitting in the front row with him during Sabbath evening services, and of me and my sister playing in his study when we would visit each Sunday. One football Saturday when I was 8, he introduced my father and me to New York Jets all-star defensive end Gerry Philbin, one of Milton's former students who was a stand-out for the UB Bulls.
But what I most appreciate about Milton was the love he felt and showed for my father. During his battle with lung cancer, Milton was a constant. Toward the end, he never left my father's side and was more a brother to him than a cousin. Sadly, Milton died just a few years after my dad, both of them in the prime of their lives.
Then 21 years ago, five years after Milton had died and while we were living in Rhode Island, Shira and I had our third child, a son we named Ari. His middle name is Micah, after the Biblical prophet and writer, whose name means "who resembles God." We chose his first name to honor Shira's Uncle Abe and his middle name to honor Milton's memory, in the Jewish tradition of naming children in honor of those who are no longer living.
Ari Micah began his college career at the University of Pittsburgh but transferred to UB before his second semester. Today he is a rising senior, majoring in history. To his delight and our utter joy, Ari has been awarded a Milton Plesur History Scholarship for the next academic year.
When Ari was born we chose his name to honor the memory of family members who were important to us. When we gave him the middle name of Micah, we wanted to remember a colorful and enigmatic academic who may be remembered more for hanging out at the "shvitz" (sauna) at the Jewish Community Center reading the New York Times than for anything else in his lifetime. But we remember him as warm and caring and different, a passionate historian and a devoted cousin to my father in his gravest hour.
Of course, we had no idea when our son was born that he would eventually land at UB, embrace the same subject matter that had once inspired Milton and receive recognition in the form of a scholarship given in memory of his namesake. Indeed, we have come full circle.
Rob Goldberg, who lives in Williamsville, shares fond memories of his father's cousin.