Art Buchwald’s Memorial Service

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By: Suzette Martinez Standring

Life is a box of chocolates, and mine was a nutty chew when I found myself at Art Buchwald’s memorial service on March 5 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
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In 2006, after writing a column about spending two days in hospice with Art, I had become friends with his family, especially his daughter Jennifer Buchwald and her wife, Jennifer Bottomley, both of whom live here in Massachusetts.
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“Stay with us in D.C. and we can sit together at the service,” said “The Jennifers.”
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So on that day, I found myself bundled into place just behind the orchestra pit at their insistence. ?Soon many of the 1,100 seats of the Eisenhower Theater filled with guests attired in black tailored apparel and pearls to honor Art.
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Onstage to share memories were Jennifer Buchwald, her brother, Joel and his wife, Tamara, and a few of Art’s friends: ?George Stevens, Jr. (co-founder and director of the Kennedy Center Honors); Dave Barry; Mike Wallace, Dr. Michael Newman (Art’s doctor); Ethel Kennedy; Tom Brokaw and Ben Bradlee of The Washington Post.
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The stellar lineup shared stories that were hilarious and heartfelt. It would have been unseemly to scribble down quotes, so I’ll have to rely on my memory for some highlights.
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His son, Joel, recalled Art’s early life as a foster child and how Art later adopted all three of his children (Joel, Connie and Jennifer).
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Tamara Buchwald told us how after seven years of marriage to Joel, Art moved in with them “temporarily and never left.” ?Such was their great family bond, that after Joel and Tamara’s children were born, Art would refer to Corbin and Tate as “our kids.”
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Tamara recalled how friends and their children would visit and after they left, Art would say, “You know, their kids aren’t as cute as our kids.”
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Dave Barry always wanted to be a columnist like Art, and expressed his shock when he first received a phone call from Art admiring his work. Once Art came to Florida for a visit and a vendor gave Art a free set of knives. ?Later, while driving together, Art pulled out a knife and jokingly brandished it at the driver in the next car.
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“Not a good idea in downtown Miami,” recalled Barry.
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Daughter Jennifer painted comical vignettes of time spent with her dad. Once he sent her a postcard from China telling of barefoot women who gathered rice 15 hours a day. ?He wrote, “I think you’d like it here.”
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With everyone speaking about Art’s wit, generosity and talent, Mike Wallace addressed the under-appreciated facet of Art’s public persona as sex symbol.
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Perhaps the greatest laughs were sparked by Ethel Kennedy’s on-the-road-with-Buchwald episodes. She recalled a time when Art, Gregory Peck and Omar Shariff faced off during a contest to see who could recite the most romantic poetry. ?While the handsome actors ardently whispered Shakespearean sonnets, Art mumbled a little ditty and lost?but oh-so-memorably.
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Afterwards, during the champagne reception, there I was, reaching for a piece of wrapped duck, and Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas would glide by, or Nancy Pelosi’s head would bob into view. ?I did tack myself onto a little ring around John Glenn, but never managed to talk to him, although I did compliment Mike Wallace, Ethel Kennedy and Dave Barry. Later when a nearby woman sounded Henry Kissinger’s name, I lifted my head from the chicken satay.
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“Where? ?Where?” I asked, spilling sauce on myself.
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An easy ice-breaker was to ask, “So how did you know Art?” ?People stepped beyond their Armani couture to recall warm and funny memories and to express personal fortune at, amazingly, having been part of his life.
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If one theme prevailed, it was Art’s great humor and self-mocking ability to make us, like the Velveteen Rabbit, a little more real.

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