Lessons From My Mother:
How We Live Our Lives And The Influence We Exert On Others When We Are Gone …
No One Need Be An Orphan
Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, November 20, 2018
When my father, Michael Prevor, a longtime produce industry executive, passed away, we published my eulogy in a piece you can read here. When my mother, Roslyn Prevor, passed, we made an announcement here.
Now that my mother has passed, I wanted to share the eulogy I wrote for her. This time, I also wanted to share the eulogy given by Ken Whitacre, my college fraternity brother and the man with whom I started PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine over 33 years ago.
My son, the Jr. Pundit Primo, aka William, also shared some thoughts about his grandmother, and I thought I would share that as well.
There are so many people to thank. Despite scaling back my travel substantially to be there for my mother, I was not with her when she died. I made a mad dash back from Amsterdam when my mother had another stroke, but I could not get back in time.
In my eulogy, I thanked my wife for being there with her, and my sister-in-law’s sister Deborah Sponder was there as well, so I am grateful to them as she did not have to die alone.
But it has been a long journey with illness, and many people have served. My sister-in-law, Abbe Prevor, has been so kind to my mother over the years. My mother’s two dear friends Corky Paston and Elaine Baker, who is what we call a Machatonim in Jewish, have worked for years to keep my mother engaged and motivated.
Although she did help out my father in the office at certain interludes, my mother was not in the produce business. Yet, she was as integral to my father’s success, and to mine, as anyone on earth. We’ve received hundreds of notes and emails from people who had met her at trade shows, pointing out how fiercely she supported my father and, in time, me, in all our ventures. There are few things that can give a child more freedom to succeed than knowing his parents believe he will succeed.
I think there is a terrible tendency to believe one’s eyes always speak the truth. When, in fact, life is more like an iceberg, with 90% under water and thus invisible. My mother’s contribution to our family’s produce business and, in time, PRODUCE BUSINESS, the Perishable Pundit, The New York Produce Show, The London Produce Show, Deli Business and all our related adventures is like this. It is obscured, but it is foundational.
Such is the power of pure love. I only hope she knew it was reciprocated by me and many.
Demonstrations Of Love
Eulogy written and delivered by Ken Whitacre
The first time I met Mrs. Prevor…
I was 18 years old, and had just moved to Ithaca, NY, all the way from Kentucky, where this relatively poor hick miraculously made it to the Ivy League. It was my first year at Cornell and Jim and I became friends when we joined the same fraternity. It was Spring Break and I had no money to go home to Kentucky. Jim must have felt pity on me and invited me to his house on Long Island.
The first thing I noticed about Mrs. Prevor was that she was genuinely interested in me. She was non-judgmental about this goofy kid from Kentucky who spoke in a southern accent and said words like Git-tar instead of guitar, Inn-surance instead of insurance, Cee-ment instead of cement.
I grew up in an environment where I had never met a Jewish person until I went to Cornell. I had never eaten a bagel and certainly never heard of Lox.
She made me feel comfortable and showed me a little about what Jewish families do together and the rituals that bind them. It was a Sunday when I discovered the Prevor family ritual of Jim’s father Mike driving to the neighborhood deli to pick up the Sunday papers and brunch. That morning, I discovered the taste of my first bagel and Nova. There was white fish with cream cheese, capers, a thin slice of raw onion and tomato.
It was later that evening when I discovered another “Jewish” tradition. It was there I learned what Pu Pu platter is at my first Chinese restaurant.
I felt very welcome in this new environment, and it was because of the kindness of Mrs. Prevor.
That very night, I observed Mrs. Prevor take command at the restaurant... It was as if she had radar turned on for everyone to be taken care of at the table. When the waiter was slow in getting to the table, she got up to find him or her. She seemed to always be mindful of everyone else’s needs and especially Mike’s.
When it came to Mr. Prevor, she was always taking care of him — Fixing his hair or straightening his eyebrows, reaching over to slow him down from eating too fast, gently touching his hand, keeping him from eating that third piece of bread. In the car, she was always keeping Mike from driving too fast — her left arm acting as another seat belt for Mike and her right arm on the dashboard every time Mike accelerated or hit the brakes. Gently reminding him to ease up on his lead foot.
Over the course of my 4 years in college, I visited with the Prevor family on other occasions. One year, she invited me to go with the family to Curaçao, and I enjoyed flying first class on a 747 down to the island. I had my first taste of escargot at a fancy restaurant in Curaçao, courtesy of Mrs. Prevor.
Throughout the years after school and when Jim and I first started working together, Mrs. Prevor continued to express her affection. She was so remarkably kind and generous. She bought me shirts for my birthday. She always took the time, even to this day, to write a hand-written personal message on my birthday cards and tell me what she liked about me.
When Jim and I had a little success in our business, I wanted to give my mom a present for Christmas…
Mrs. Prevor took me shopping for a mink coat. It was something I thought would really show how much I appreciated all that my mom had sacrificed for me. So, Mrs. Prevor and I spent an entire day shopping, both on Long Island and in the City… She taught me how to shop, what to look for, how to place the right value on things, how to politely ask questions, how to find the right coat perfect for someone who had never had a mink. It was a day I have never forgotten. And my mom still wears that coat every Christmas.
Years later, she and Mike took me to dinner and to the Broadway show, Les Misêrables, for my 30th birthday.
She helped me in choosing the house I live in today. She gave me decorating advice and bought a china cabinet for my new home.
Just a few years ago, she came to our London Produce Show, and somehow word got out that I forgot to pack a tie. Within hours, Mrs. Prevor had a few ties for me to wear.
There was a time when Mrs. Prevor worked for Jim and me. We actually had her name on our masthead as Roslyn Dale, Circulation Manager, which basically meant she cleaned up the list of our subscribers, checking spelling, titles, and company names. But since she also had been a school teacher, we asked her to read a few articles.
But when she came to the office, the first thing she did was clean Jim’s office and organize his desk. To this day, we could still use her help!
The one thing I really loved about her being in the office was that she was so selfless. In addition to giving Jim everything he needed to make his work easier, it was encouraging to have her complementing my editing and use of alliterative words for headlines. She recognized my artistic abilities and saw that I was also good at getting things done.
There also were occasions for family events that I was honored to attend. At parties, Mrs. Prevor was extremely gracious when people complimented her. She always dressed elegantly but never drawing attention to herself. Most of the time, a compliment on jewelry was returned with a simple thank you and that it was a gift from her husband.
This was a woman who did not seek attention or adoration. She was confident in being herself without any pretense.
My other observation of Mrs. Prevor was that she had a certain level of constant energy — she walked fast, with intention… you never got the impression that she was ever weary or worried. Her brain was always active, and she always seemed in control.
But the most important thing that stood out in all of my years of watching Mr. and Mrs. Prevor together… the thing that struck me the most was the way she acted toward her husband. She demonstrated HOW to love…
It makes me think of the way the word, love, is often not fully understood or appreciated. In watching Mr. and Mrs. Prevor, you get the meaning of the word LOVE as a verb — to love.
The word goes far beyond the noun, love, which is the feeling you derive from another person… It is how you ACT when that person is NOT around. How you SHOW that person your feelings. You love — the verb — by DOING things that express that verb — TO LOVE. I AM loving you right now. I am conducting my actions to show my feelings of love.
You don’t have to say it. In fact, it was rare that you saw Mr. and Mrs. Prevor saying I LOVE YOU or performing Public Displays of Affection like one hears about in high school.
You SAW it in their actions. You saw them communicating kindly when they were together; you saw them speaking the same narrative of what brought them together, showing appreciation and mutual admiration of where they are now, and how they got to where they are today, through the tougher times.
It was on the last day of Mike’s life that I witnessed so much love she had for him. Even when it must have been the absolute saddest day of her life, it was Mrs. Prevor who was consoling me!
I stood outside the office bawling on the phone with her, helping me get through my own struggle with Mike’s death. Her love for him was so strong that death was only an obstacle in how she could express her love for him in the future. That is what got us both through that time.
I hope that when this day of mourning is over, everyone here will continue TO LOVE Mrs. Prevor and TO LOVE one another a little bit more in the same generous way she demonstrated it to me.
Where I Could Do No Wrong
Eulogy written and delivered by William Prevor
Grandma Roz was an amazing person. Every Hanukkah — and really whenever we could — we would beg Grandma Roz to make a batch of her amazing potato pancakes. They really were the best potato pancakes I have ever had, and I know for sure that others who tried them would agree.
When I was given the opportunity to say a few words today about why I loved Grandma Roz and what made her so special, I started trying to think about what, specifically, I could say… what, exactly, made her such a great person. As I went through my memories, her potato latkes did come to mind, and I tried to think about what made them so great.
It has been a few years since she last made a batch due to her strokes, but I remember distinctly how good they were and so I think there are no words that can accurately describe why Grandma Roz’s latkes were so great or what made them so delicious.
There was an air of mystery around the recipe to her potato pancakes just as there is around what made her so special as a person. I can only give a few examples of experiences that can lead you to begin to understand what a special person she was.
One of the wonderful things about Grandma Roz was she was always accepting of our interests. I have an unusual interest with my love of Disney, but to Grandma Roz it was completely normal. Grandma would always want to see pictures from my trips to Disney and was always interested in finding out what was special that I saw in that trip. We would often have lengthy discussions about Disney, and she was always sending me pictures of old Disney things that she would find or any Disney news that she saw. In truth, most of it was already three weeks old and was familiar to me, but she cared — it was the thought.
Even after her death, she has supported my love of Disney as, long ago, she had told my dad to give me two Walt Disney World passes that belonged to her and my grandpa, and these were special 25-year passes that they had bought in 2005 and are no longer sold.
Although they really have no commercial value — as they are non-transferable and in their names — they do mean a lot to me since they represent her support of my interests and dreams and, of course, they are special as she gave them to me.
Another great trait of Grandma Roz was that, in her eyes, I could never do anything wrong. My Grandma was not the most tech-savvy person. Back before my Grandpa died, they would ask me to help them record TV shows, and I would do it and show them how. Then just a few days later, they would be asking me again! At the time, I had apparently said to my Dad that these people were not very intelligent because they didn’t know how to work the DVR! But when Grandma heard this, she wasn’t upset or insulted. She just laughed and said I was right!
Even in the last several months after Grandma’s strokes, she lost a lot of peripheral vision and so she wanted to listen to Audiobooks. She tried it herself through the Audible app and had somehow managed to download some books to listen to. After that, though, she could not figure it out.
I was with her one day and she asked me to help, which I tried to do, and I discovered that she had to purchase the books on the computer with her Amazon account information, which of course she didn’t remember. So I figured just having her download the books through her iPad and iPhone would be easier than doing it through Audible, where she would have to go on the computer all the time and it would just be very complicated.
So I set her up to download books from the iTunes store and listen to them on her Apple devices. I probably explained this to her 12 times over the past whatever months, and she kept asking me how she could know if the books she was downloading were Audible.
But just as Grandma Roz and Grandpa Mike never got the hang of the DVR so many years ago, I think she never was actually able to download a book without me doing it for her, and I think she died thinking that AudioBooks are Audible. But the point is that even through all this, teaching her time and time again, she never got upset or frustrated — she faced it with positivity and always thanked me for helping her download the books even though she never really got it.
In the days following her death, and as I was writing this little speech, I asked my dad if we still had the recipe for her famous latkes, and he said that we did. When we discussed the recipe, I realized that they can never really be made the same again as it is an older recipe and it was written in very non-exact terms. A pinch of salt, a few potatoes, some onions, etc. So even though we have a written record of how to make them, only Grandma Roz will ever really know how to make them.
When we do try and make a batch based on these directions, I think that we will not be able to recapture the magic of Grandma Roz’s potato latkes.
It would be a disservice to her and who she was as a Grandma to me, and all her grandchildren, for me to try to describe what made her such a fantastic grandma and person. So just like her latkes, why she was so special cannot be fully described or outlined, only enjoyed in our memories.
There will be no one else like her just like there will be no latkes like hers.
She was a true original. I loved her so much, and I will miss her forever.
Lessons On Extraordinary Resilience
Eulogy written and delivered by Jim Prevor
“I love you, a bushel and a peck,
a bushel and a peck
and a hug around the neck…”
I can still hear my mother’s voice, still see the smile on her perpetually young face, as she would come into my room as a young boy and sing me to sleep. It was a silly song, and we would laugh, but that moment was filled with sentiments of love and, in a certain way, that expression was a melody that ran throughout her life.
I was not yet 20 when I eulogized my grandmother. In time, I spoke for my grandfather and in turn my father. And now it is over. The physical manifestation of these generations has passed and, in my direct family, we have only what Lincoln called “the mystic chords of memory” to tie us through time and space to what we were before, to the people and values that made us what we are today.
Roz holding the Pundit at two and a half weeks old
For my children, my nephews and niece, here today, this is what I have surmised from a lifetime with your grandmother: There are in life certain pivot points; moments when everything changes. Those are easy to see. And can lead one to fatalism. But your grandmother’s life reminds us it is not all fate. How things pivot depends crucially on the individual. Their values, their efforts, their attitudes.
My mother taught me that the way one conducts oneself matters. In notifying people of her passing, I have noticed one consistent thing… the less distinguished the person, the more they wept. It was the valet in the building, the woman who washed her hair, the secretaries in the offices she visited who all broke down. Because Mom had no pretense, because she valued the janitor as much as the king. Because she once told me: “I always try to be kind if I can.’
She taught me that it is valuable to keep learning. In unwitting preparation for these pivot points, Grandma was always learning. She was a voracious reader. Always with three or four books going at one time. She also learned from others. I remember as a young woman she was a little intimidated by store clerks, but her neighbor and friend, Barbra Zimmerman, taught her that she was providing jobs and needn’t be shy.
Sometimes she learned from personal observation. As you know, she and my father met quite young. It was decades later when they had occasion to visit a nude beach in St. Maarten. I asked my mother about the experience. She explained that she had learned that “All men are NOT created equal!”
The life of Roslyn Prevor gave evidence of extraordinary resilience… and in doing so, set standards for us — all of us — to aspire to. It also set out a way of living, simultaneously purposeful and kind, that can inspire us to live our lives in a better way.
My mother had more than enough blows against her to have a ruined life. She was born to irresponsible parents and soon abandoned. That alone would have been enough to fell a lesser person.
For a short period of time she and her brother were taken in by her grandparents, but with the death of her grandmother within a year, her grandfather, a tailor of modest means, didn’t feel he could care for her. So, she became a ward of the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum-- another blow that would have ruined a lesser person.
Alternately, she was bounced around, living in the orphanage or sent out to live with a series of foster homes. Each one was different, some treated her decently and some thought she was Cinderella. One after another, but all without love. Enough again, many times over, to have destroyed the life of a less resilient person.
But her grandfather, who never allowed her to be adopted lest he lose contact, transmitted certain values about education and commitment, and these values — combined with high intelligence and personal resilience — led her to overcome her situation and she graduated both Lincoln High and Brooklyn College and became a teacher. This was is at a time when less than 6% of females in the US had a college degree.
And on the lunch line at Lincoln High at just 15 years old — younger than any of the grandchildren present here today — she met a boy. He became her date at her Sweet 16, and the story of her life for the next 60 years was about the life and family she built with Mike Prevor, my father.
It was as if, never having come from a family, she was committed to having the best one possible. She was a teacher, but she gave up that career to take care of yours truly. And she had many interests. She trained and became a travel agent, studied and got certified as an interior decorator, but dropped all these things and more the minute they interfered with her husband or children.
There were, of course, physical manifestations of this commitment to family. Some were private. I remember when we were moving from Albertson to Oyster Bay Cove, our house construction wasn’t complete for the beginning of the school year as had been scheduled, but she didn’t want me to suffer academically or socially from moving into Jr. High School mid-year. So Mom, who was not a morning person, drove me every day for ten months.
Some manifestations of this commitment to family were public. Later in life, she organized massive trips to bring together the extended family in places such as Italy and Hawaii.
But most of her commitment to family was subtle. The primary fact of her life was that she and my father loved each other tremendously. She would say he was “the wind beneath my wings” but, that is only half the story, she lifted my father, not only emotionally but in a tangible way. There is not the slightest possibility that my father would have had the success he had in business except that my mother took on everything else.
I once gave a speech at a birthday party where I talked about “Rambo Roz” because, in her prime, she was a sight to behold. Going to college or getting a new apartment, she would say, “I’ll be there to set up the room.” It would all be done faster and more complete than anyone I knew.
When my father fell ill, he was never once alone. My mother dedicated herself completely and totally to his recovery and care. She moved to Texas and to Philadelphia to pursue the treatment my father wanted. She had no family or friends in these places, no support systems. But her dedication to my father was so complete that she never thought of objecting.
Then, of course, my father passed, and she confronted another great pivot point in her life. She was, of course, sad, and had to search for meaning in a life without the man she loved and had built a life with. It is hard for people to understand this loss. She had no hobbies, she had no work, she had only friends that they shared as a couple.
She did not want to engage at all.
But she told me that she knew this was not good for her. That this would be a waste of a life. So, she forced herself to start accepting social invitations, meeting friends and, in time, she placed listings on dating apps.
In other words, through her pain and loss, she decided to make the most of her life.
William, Matthew, Harry, Ben, Alexandra — take note of this conscious act of will to make the most of this inflection point, and if you want to honor your grandmother, remember you need not be a passive participant in the drama of your own life.
Then came the strokes — first one, then two, then 3, 4 and 5 — the first was a shock, but each subsequent one was a demoralizing setback. Yet, even then, she found within herself the wherewithal to go on, to do the therapy, go to the doctors, keep searching for solutions.
In the end, the thing to know about my mother was she was so content. Oh sure, in some abstract way she wanted to go on and see her grandchildren marry, but she always told me that we didn’t need her for that. She had lived a life richer than she had ever dreamed.
Just a week before she passed, we were talking and she laid it out almost as if she knew what was coming. “I have flown on the Concorde, sailed the QE II, cruised the fjords of Scandinavia, visited China and Rio, Australia and Fiji. I’ve been to Israel and all across Europe. Thanks to your Dad, I have had such an amazing life. You know all our friends say that Dad and I had the best marriage of everyone we know. And I have you — you are always here for me.”
And so, I tried to be.
In 2006, I received a phone call from both of my parents asking me to come to their apartment. I was 44 years old with a wife, two children and a business. Yet I drove the whole way over thinking, like a 12-year-old, “What I did I do wrong?”
In fact, my parents, who were always giving, for the first and only time, asked for my help. My father had been diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome and been given a short time to live. They said they were not thinking clearly, and they asked if I would be willing to help them by finding if there was anything to be done. A few weeks later, on my birthday, we flew to MD Anderson to arrange for a lifesaving transplant with stem cells from his identical twin brother, Sydney, who is with us today.
For the next dozen years — from that moment until today — a third of my adult life — it has been a mad dash through hospitals, therapies, doctors and ambulance rides. I held hands, was a motivational coach, vetted doctors and found great places for lunch!
Of course, these things were never more important to me than my wife or children, but they were often urgent. My wife, Debbie, was with my mother when she passed and, for that, I will always be grateful. But, more broadly, I know my mother would have wanted me to thank Debbie, William and Matthew for giving me the time to fulfill what I perceived to be my responsibilities.
I hope that through this exercise of filial devotion, I taught my children the values of love, of family, of duty, and that these values might be a guide to their own decision making as life goes on.
I want to thank Ken, who you heard a few minutes ago, as he covered for me a thousand times over these dozen years and, my brother, Barry, my great partner in this effort to support our parents for these dozen years.
It is not 100% clear where we go from here. When my father passed, it was easy: Job one was to help my mother.
But this is now one of those inflection points. This chapter closes, and the next opens. The story is not yet written. But I shall endeavor to write a story true to the values my parents taught me, filled with love.
As we were sitting shiva, the Jr. Pundit Primo, aka my oldest son William — who wrote and delivered the beautiful tribute to his grandmother that we include above — had a visit — we call it a shiva call — from one of his closest friends, a boy named James who moved to America from Australia.
As I watched the boys chat, I thought about how they met and then I thought about the beautiful testimonial that Ken Whitacre gave, which we also include above.
Back when William was in 4th grade, so just 9 years old, he took on the job at school of being a Panther Pal, a position that required him to host visiting students who were considering attending the school.
He had done this several times but never with a foreign student.
After school, William came home and approached me. He said, “Dad, today I was a Panther Pal for a boy from Australia. His Dad is going to get a job here and so he is looking at schools. They are here for a whole week and they do not know anyone. I think we need to invite them over so they won’t be lonely.”
So we did. And it was the start of a wonderful friendship.
As I sat at the shiva, I thought about what motivated a nine-year-old to care about this Australian family being lonely, and I realized that this was my mother’s values being expressed through the generations.
When my mother would host Thanksgiving or Passover or some other event, we always had an open house; there was always some “orphan” with no family nearby who we welcomed. And Ken’s eulogy is an expression of my mother’s open heart.
It became my way too. And, as I watched the boys, I realized it was William’s as well.
Sometimes in life, people despair at not having achieved what they had hoped to achieve.
But those now young men talking was a reminder that we all have influence that we don’t always realize. William’s concern for a stranger in a strange land comforted a family and helped them feel welcome and thrive on a new continent, and William, and our whole family, made special friends.
Maybe what funerals and eulogies remind us is that how we live matters. We have influence long after we are gone. Let us all endeavor to live so that this influence is for good.