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« The Soft Despotism of the Tutelary State | Main | Orit Arfa's Compelling New Novel, "The Settler" »

August 09, 2013

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Mannie Sherberg

Rick -- I just got around to reading this beautifully-written piece -- and I'm awestruck at the resilience and strength of spirit that motivates some people. We can take all the psychology courses in the world but, in the end, we'll be left mystified to explain why circumstances that would leave many people emotionally crippled for life spur other people to monumental achievement. I don't get to read much inspirational stuff these days, so thanks for this. I'm not just inspired -- I'm humbled.

Rick Richman

Hi Mannie -- here is something else to read about her, a story from the February 15, 1995 NYT, on the publication of her autobiography at age 73 (http://tinyurl.com/jvge6b7).

Here is an excerpt:

During 46 years of marriage she gave birth to nine children, helped Maxwell start and build Pergamon Press, a science publishing house that grew to such proportion it was sold in 1991 for $766 million, and even in the last decade of his life, as her husband's behavior grew progressively more eccentric and cruel, she remained loyal, despite his prolonged absences and repeated threats of a legal separation. …

What she has to show for her efforts is spectacular ruin; debt, dishonor and the potential destruction of two sons' careers. When Maxwell died in 1991, at 68, falling overboard from his yacht, his holdings were vast, including The Daily News in New York and Macmillan Publishing, and the rush of questions was immediate. Was it murder? Suicide? Or just a heart attack? Was he trying to escape the consequences of accumulating a $5 billion debt? Did he purposely leave Ian and Kevin Maxwell liable for the pension funds of thousands of employees that he had illegally used as security against other businesses? …

Mrs. Maxwell speaks with a candor and dignity that can come only from a wrenching self-scrutiny, the kind most people spend a lifetime avoiding. At 73, she radiates strength. She radiates survival. …

"Kevin has said to me, 'Mummy, if it comes to pass, I will atone for my father.' " Her look pierces. "This is the overwhelming sadness of my life," she says. "Being left in these circumstances means nothing to me. I have had an extraordinary life. I could have had the moon if it was accessible. But to see my sons' careers in ruin, knowing their character and the kind of men they are, is unacceptable and unforgivable. That they should be left by their father in this mess." …

In the 1980's she returned to college, at Oxford, where she earned a doctorate in French history and became a historian on the Holocaust, with an emphasis on its meaning for Christians. Maxwell still called on her to help with the business, and she always complied, in spite of his flagrant womanizing (which she writes about plainly) and increasingly erratic personal behavior.

"We had a very strange relationship," she says, sipping her coffee. "With all the ups and downs, he kept his love for me enormously protective. He was really a very sick man at the end of his life, and I couldn't imagine anyone else looking after him, although he had been very beastly with me in that last year. At the time it broke something in me, but I couldn't have stopped looking after him. It was 1987 or 1988 when our paths really diverged. His style of life was too big, too shallow, for me. I embarked on a much more spiritual path. He admired what I was doing, and I didn't understand what he was doing. I couldn't understand the reaching for more and more and more. It frightened me."

"So, yes, I feel betrayed," she says flatly. "I cannot imagine he willingly would want me or his children or the pensioners to suffer. I was left only with debts, and I can't repay them. If my friends hadn't lent me money I would have gone bankrupt myself. People like these, to me, redeem the world, and it's not only a question of money. People have been kind without a bean to give me. There is no pattern to the courage to care. Some are marvelous, while some have no heart, no brain. Cowards." …

Her tone soon grows philosophical. "Ah, it is wonderful to pick and choose the things in life to do better." She shrugs. "The worst years of my life were 1981 to 1991. I was at his beck and call with no kudos, nothing was right. What saved me was my work on the Holocaust. From there I started a new world of studies and also a rethinking of my faith.”

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