I am sure that this presidential election extended my dad’s life. During these past few months, which turned out to be his last, everything revolved around Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. They were all he wanted to talk about and their controversies filled him with energy.
A lifelong Republican and philanthropist, my father worked in the textile industry for 45 years and gave his time and money to support local organizations like The United Way of Westchester and The White Plains Hospital. This was a man that quietly voted for Goldwater, Nixon, Reagan and both Bushes. But Trump scared him enough to speak out.
“He would tell everyone not to vote for Trump,” said Yvonne Williams, one of my father’s long time aides. “Whenever a nurse, a cleaning person, or even the cable man came into the house John would make them promise to vote for Hillary.”
When a barber came to the house to give him the last haircut of his life, my father quickly determined he was a Trump supporter. Before the man could get his scissors ready my dad pounced.
“How can you vote for Trump?” They got into a contentious back-and-forth. As the barber tried to cut his hair, my dad would stop him and ask, “Can’t you see that Hillary is better for the country?” And then over and over, “Vote Hillary.” Finally, the man capitulated. He’d vote for Hillary if my dad would stop his verbal attack and let him finish cutting his hair. Satisfied, my dad stopped berating the barber. But when he discovered that his own son-in-law was voting for Trump he never stopped haranguing him until the day he died.
On one of my sister’s last visits, our dad mostly slept. But when she told him that Trump hadn’t paid income taxes in over a decade, the eyes of this 98-year-old man popped open and he shot up in his bed asking questions, eager to hear more. As John Bendheim’s life, filled with family, friends, tennis, and chocolate cake, came to an end 28 days before the election, his last words in life are memorable.
It was on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, which began at sundown on October 11th. Seven years earlier on the same somber holiday, it was my mother, his wife of 58 years, Maxine Asch Bendheim, who died. When Charmaine Nalty, another one of his long-term aides, said goodnight to my father on the anniversary of his wife’s death he spoke his last words.
“Trump is an idiot,” he said. “Vote for Hillary.”
The next morning, he was gone.