Dinner with the Lester and Devra

July 27, 2007

breslow.jpgJust back from dinner with Lester and Devra Breslow. Devra commissioned me three years ago to compose THE BALLAD OF PAPA LESTER which I sang for him on his 90th birthday with and electro-acoustic backup I did using Logic. Lester is now 93, Devra is, well, I don’t know, 20 or 30 years younger. Maybe that is one of our bonds. Lester and Devra are old family friends of Daniel’s family since he was a boy. But guess what? Lester was an important person in all of our lives. He was the first major advocate for public health that told the world that smoking is bad for you. He also said that breakfast is the most important meal. And that we should practice everything in moderation: including moderation. He has served under presidents, in the army, and of course for many years at UCLA as a professor, Chair, and Dean.

Devra set the evening up. She put us together knowing I wanted to talk to him about leadership. He was brilliant and so darn wise. “Don’t believe gossip; ask the person directly.” “Don’t jeopardize the student’s standing in the eyes of their professor.” “If you have to fire someone, do it face to face in private, not by a letter.” “Cleaning out deadwood can revivify a school. That’s hard to do with the tenured faculty.”

Lester is fully aware that he could “go” any moment, any day. Every day is a gift. He is more active than I am. He has a trainer who works with hiim with light weights and stretching; he and Devra go for an hour and a half walk every afternoon; and he works in his garden.

Once after being heckled by an obnoxious faculty member, he, in a Yoda-like fashion I presume, took it like water off a duck’s feathers. He confessed that he tolerated it because he was the best teacher in the school. You’ve got to cut your colleagues some slack from time to time. He later turned out to be one of the great innovators in public health innovation. “Is that because you let him do and research what he really loved to do?” I asked. “Yeah, I guess that’s true” Lester said looking to the left as if trying to remember an old memory.

Devra’s food was terrific. The salad had fresh lima beans, corn, onions, and other fresh crunchy stuff that was delish. Omaha steaks smothered in onions that Lester grew himself. Lester made the martinis (Hendricks for the men and vodka for Devra). A bit strong on the vermouth, but I figured it was a generational thing so I cherished it. The vegie was rainbow chard from Lester’s garden and the dessert was chocolate ice cream on papaya. We left at a civilized time, 9:30, and wound our way back home along the swervy Sunset Boulevard from the Bellagio area to Hollywood.

[Photo by Reed Hutchinson. UCLA Photgraphic Services
Public Health Professor Lester Breslow leads a crowd of emeriti on their weekly walk around the campus.]

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