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100th Birthday

A Celebration of the Life of I.F. Stone
November 16, 2008
Story Chapel, Mount Auburn Cemetery

Remarks by Celia Stone Gilbert

Welcome, family, friends and fans to this joyful celebration of I.F. Stone's 100th year, a celebration made even more joyous by the election of Barack Obama for the next president of the United States.

What would Izzy have had to say, he who had written and fought so long for the rights of African-Americans?

And welcome to Mount Auburn Cemetery, this unique place beloved by all who walk along its winding, wooded paths relishing each change of season and meditating on the lives of the worthy women and men who lie buried here.  Father and Mother's ashes repose here, and a few short weeks ago the ashes of his beloved younger brother Luke were placed here as well.

Our mother, Esther, and our father, Izzy, met on a blind date and formed a legendary and unflagging romantic union for 52 years.  She was his inspiration and steadfast support, as wise as he an unparalleled reader of the human heart as he was of the body politic.  A woman who freely acknowledged his many flaws and loved him despite them.

For a vivid and comprehensive study of Izzy's life, read Myra MacPherson's prize-winning autobiography, All Governments Lie.

But this afternoon, my brother Chris and I offer you two snapshots from the family album.  Mine is from our childhood in the '40s.  It is getting along towards dinnertime at 5618 Nebraska Avenue, Washington, D.C.  My younger sibs, Jeremy and Chris, are wandering about.  I am reading a book.  Let's say we are ten, seven and five.

Our father has called to say he is on his way home.  A car door slams.  Immediately our beautiful, normally quiet mother appears, running down the stairs.  Her hair has been neatly combed, her lipstick freshened.  Her glasses have been removed.

Footsteps run up the walk.  We leap up and the door is flung open.  Cries of, Daddy, Daddy, as Father hurdles directly into our small living room.  My mother throws herself around his neck, kissing him passionately.

We children crowd around trying to get his attention for ourselves while, with a pleased but very sheepish smile, Father kisses her and unhooks himself from her embrace.  This is a daily ritual and he's only been gone since morning.

Father inspired me to become a poet.  There is nothing greater than a poet, he told me when I was a child.  He loved them all:  Milton, Blake, Whitman, Harte, Sappho.  And memorizing poetry was a lifelong past-time.

And here is our brother Chris' memory of our father's last days in the hospital in Boston, and I quote.

"So much of Dad's life was conveyed in the way he left it.  He had surgery for colon cancer on May 22, the time of the student uprising in Beijing.  And when he came out from under the general anesthetic, his first words were -- we have it on the authority of the incredulous nurse -- 'What's happening in China?'

"This was reassuring but he soon suffered post-operative cardiac complications, and this led him to cut back on the news, first especially the news from China, which pained him.

"This was important.  One can read some patient's health by their appetite.  The appetite flagged trouble.  With Dad, the appetite that flagged was his appetite for news, the man who had gorged on it, meal after meal with great snacks of dispatches in between.

"So while the doctors were running around, checking traditional vital signs, pulse rate, blood pressure, we were watching for the real ones.  We waited for Dad to sit up and begin tearing lustily two-column swaths through the Times and Globe, while calling out in excitement, Hey, goddammit!  Look at this.

"But he had the hunger for, he couldn't stomach the fare.  Nonetheless, the papers kept coming.  Unread, they filled his hospital room.  The hospital room began to look more and more like home.  And I think he took comfort in smell of the newsprint.

"Then his last full Sunday, Dad told Celia to cut off delivery of the Globe.  By the time I got to his room, he was reckoning with his continued need for the New York Times.  Some parts could be disposed of but not much.  'You can throw away the second section of the business section,' he said.  We knew then he wasn't going to turn the corner.

"Dad died feeling he had one more book in him.  That for me is the saddest part, and that is really the glory of his life as well."

And now I want to read what Judy Stone, his younger sister, a journalist and author of many books, said.

"I'm writing this late on the night that Barack Obama became President-Elect.  I thought of how prophetic Izzy's words were in October of 1955 when he wrote in the Weekly in an article entitled The South is Sick -- That is the Meaning of the Emmett Till Murder.

"Quote:  'The American Negro -- this was 1955 -- needs a Gandhi to lead him, and we need the American Negro to lead us.

"Of all the many things I loved about my big brother, one was his courage in attacking the hypocrisy of his fellow journalists when he resigned from the National Press Club in 1941 after he couldn't get luncheon service there for his guest, William H. Hasting, the dean of Howard Law School.

Thereupon he joined the Negro Press Club and for decades tried unsuccessfully to get the National Press Club to do the same thing.  He was always in the forefront in fighting for justice, whether it was for blacks in American or Palestinians in Palestine, and Arabs in Israel," end of quote.

The next speaker is B.J. Stone, my wonderful sister-in-law.

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