I just learned that one of my dearest friends and mentors died Thursday night. Bernard Rapoport, or B as he loved to be called, was deep into his 90s, but still was handing out money from his foundation (his last board meeting was last weekend) and going into his office to work the phones as late as Tuesday of this week. It is hard to imagine someone so full of life is gone.
B gave money to almost every progressive cause and candidate around, and raised money for practically all of them as well. He started organizations, chaired the University of Texas Board of Regents, demanded every politician he knew raise his taxes, told proud stories of his communist parents, introduced everyone he knew to everyone else he knew, and always had a grand time doing all of it.
The first time I ever met him was when I had driven to see him in Waco, and he turned me down in about 30 seconds flat for the environmental group I was raising money for, telling me there were lots of rich people giving money to environmental causes, that he had to reserve his for helping labor and poor people organize. He then invited me to stay for a while; we told stories for three hours, and then he invited me to dinner and to stay the night. Didn't get the check, but got one of my best friends of all time. We have been allies in every cause and on every campaign ever since.
B delighted in telling people that his mother, when people asked what he did for a living, would say sheepishly, "Well, he's a businessman, but he is a very learned man nonetheless." B made a lot of money in his life, working with unions to provide good insurance policies for their members, but he never forgot his parents' values or his progressive instincts. He was friends with presidents and senators and speakers of the House (at least the Democratic ones), but his heart and his friendship went out to just about everyone he met -- I would often see him trading stories or having a drink with waiters and bellhops he knew, and a couple of them mentioned to me over the years that B had given them money for their kids' scholarships.
B was a voracious reader (I think B quoted Thorstein Veblen more times than all the other folks I ever met combined), and he had an annual tradition of sending out his favorite book of the year to thousands of friends across the country. He also helped countless authors pay for their research and publish their books. But he didn't know much about pop culture. I had a friend who dated Cybill Shepherd for a while at the height of her "Moonlighting" fame, and he let me stay at her place in LA when I was out there. B called while I was in LA, and when I returned his call, I of course had to tell him where I was. He wasn't impressed because he had never heard of her. He asked me, "So is this some candidate you are going to want me to give money to?"
B Rapoport was one of the greatest men I have ever known, and I will always be in his debt for the friendship he made with me, the things I learned from him, the stories he told me. Our progressive movement, of which he was always such a leader and friend, will miss him dearly as well. He was one of the good ones.