Editor’s note: This moving eulogy was presented by Lee Lasher at his father’s funeral on May 16, 2022.
Today is a day of profound sorrow and sadness, yet I don’t want to talk about my dad’s death, but his life. My father Howard Lasher’s Hebrew name was Chayim, which means life and what an appropriate name and what a life he lived.
It is hard to imagine the challenges my father faced as a young boy of 3 years old who lost his father, for whom I am named. It was my dad and his mom, Grandma Ida, in a one-room apartment on Suffolk and Houston streets on the Lower East Side.
They had no money, but they had each other and the loving support of the extended family and a tight-knit community. My dad had already started working part-time at the age of 14, while still going to school. His first job was as a delivery boy for a jewelry store. One day in 1956, he was given the job to deliver a ring to a wedding that was taking place that day. That day also happened to be the day of the New York Yankees World Series game and a guy named Don Larsen was pitching (yes, the famous World Series “perfect game”). As my dad was on his way to deliver the ring, he noticed a crowd in front of a store and saw they were watching the game. It was the 6th inning and he was glued to the tv. He stayed until the end of the game, cheering with everyone else. He got to the wedding two hours late and they were actually waiting for him and couldn’t start the wedding without the ring. The family was not too thrilled and the next day my father got fired. He told me he learned a valuable lesson that day: When you have a job to do, you do it and you do it the right way, no excuses. That is a lesson he surely taught me. And I’m going to tell you about other great lessons he instilled in me.
My dad went on to continue his studies and hard work. He went to college at night and finally got a job in the mailroom of a Wall Street firm. His hard work paid off and he soon became a floor broker on the American Stock Exchange, eventually having his own firm, the Lasher Group. My dad had setbacks at work and at home but he never gave up, always bounced back and showed persistence and resilience, perhaps life’s two most important traits.
Winston Churchill once said “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” That was my dad. It is so ironic that he passed away on Pesach Sheni, a day about second chances.
My parents divorced when I was 7 and my dad lived in a cool apartment in Lincoln Towers on the Upper West Side. In fact, the apartment was so cool that it was featured in a scene in the 1975 movie “Three Days of the Condor,” with Robert Redford. My dad was handsome, cool, successful, charming and lived the eligible bachelor life. He was enjoying life to the utmost. But when I was 11 and Drew 7, my mom was really struggling to take care of us. What did my dad do? He brought us to live with him in the bachelor pad and then he finally got a larger apartment for the three of us and a nanny. This was in the 1970’s; how many children lived with their fathers after a divorce? I knew of no one else. But it gets even better. The next year my dad suffered a financial setback on Wall Street so my brother and I went back to my mom. After a few months when it was clear this was not the best option, my dad decided he would figure out the financial stuff and we needed to come back to live with him.
He never looked back from there and achieved incredible success while being a great dad to Drew and me. I don’t think I would be where I am today without my father rescuing us in this way.
I have so many great memories. I remember the summers in the Hamptons (where I started going again about 20 years ago with my family and have so many flashbacks and fond memories from my childhood). I remember Yankees, Rangers and Knicks games. In 1978, my dad received two tickets to the Yankees-Dodgers World Series game and they were literally behind home plate. There was Curt Gowdy doing TV broadcasting and us behind him. We were on TV most of that night and I remember my friends in school the next day wondering how the heck we got those seats. And my dad didn’t even go to that game. He gave the tickets to Drew and me.
I also remember shopping at Barneys. How much I loved that and to look cool like my dad. Clearly I kept that up as well and maybe even took it to a new level. My dad used to say “Dress British, think Yiddish, and you will be successful.”
Another phrase my dad would often say is “your word is your bond.” He was a man of integrity and he taught me the importance of this. I have tried to remember this throughout my business career and in life.
My dad loved to give tzedakah and to give back. If children or others were suffering, he was in pain and wanted to help. Guiding Eyes for the Blind, the Koby Mandell Foundation, sending kids in Newtown to summer camp, Salvation Army, Jewish Federation, Chabad and so much more. He knew he was blessed and he wanted to give back. He said never take for granted life’s blessings and he taught me that important value as well.
I mentioned before about my dad being one of New York’s most eligible and cool bachelors. He had many relationships and sadly none worked out too well. That all changed 20+ years ago when he met Jeanette. He loved her so much and she was the one for him. He would tell me “Lee, I finally got it right and I’m not screwing this one up.”
Jeanette, thank you for your love, patience and care for my dad and for all the special times we shared as well, including that trip to Capri when you, my dad, Cheryl and I happened to be there at the same time. I also remember the trips, celebrations and holidays in Israel, Jolly Hill, Englewood, Florida and so much more. I want you to know you are part of our family and that should continue.
I want to end by talking about Pesach, past and present. You see, when I was younger, from about the age of 12, I led the Seder. Thanks to my dad,I was lucky to go to a yeshiva, first Yeshiva of Flatbush in Brooklyn and then Ramaz in NYC when I moved to my dad’s apartment. My dad did not have a yeshiva education and did not have a father to teach him. In those early Seders, we would use the Maxwell House Haggadah, and if food wasn’t served in 20 minutes after the Seder began, my dad would yell, “Ok, enough. Where’s the food?” One year my dad asked me “When is the Seder?” and I responded “Next Tuesday.” He said “Next Tuesday is not good for me, I have an important meeting. Let’s do it on Monday.”
When I explained it does not work that way, he said “fine,” and changed his business plans. Fast forward to this year, only four weeks ago. We were down in Boca and had the Seder with my dad, Jeanette, Cheryl’s dad, my sons David and Jake and Cheryl and me. In addition to all the parts of the Seder, I asked everyone to talk about gratitude, attitude and platitudes (I called it a “GAP” seder). My father came very prepared and spoke beautifully. Our Seder did not end until 1 a.m.
My father wouldn’t leave and he and Jeanette stayed to the very end. Honestly, I was shocked, but so happy. He had come such a long way. Or maybe he knew his time on earth was coming to an end. I will never forget this special Seder.
My dad went around telling everyone how proud he was of me but I want him to know how proud I was of him. A man of warmth, values, persistence, resilience, hard work, integrity, love and friendship. A man who respected all people and was a proud Jew. A great husband to Jeanette, a great father to Drew and me, and wonderful grandfather to Gabrielle and Jake M, David and Jake and great-grandfather to Noah and Caleb.
Dad, rest in peace and may your neshama have an aliyah.
Englewood’s Lee Lasher is president of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.