JFK accepts the 1960 Democratic Presidential Nomination at the L.A. Sports Arena. Courtesy image.

My late mother, Thelma Neworth, led a rather remarkable life, equal parts mother/housewife and amateur politician/social justice activist. To my father’s credit, he supported her activism and to her credit, she helped support his business, a men’s clothing store. At night, for hours on end, my mother did the books on an adding machine so noisy I could hear it in my bedroom as I covertly listened to the radio when I should have been asleep.

The peak of my mother’s political glory was in 1960 when the Democrats held their national convention in the nearly brand new Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena where she was in charge of the seating of the delegates. I don’t care what it was, a Dodger game or the most elegant Beverly Hills restaurant, in L.A., if you were in charge of where people sat, you were a big shot.

So it was my mother interacted with anyone who was anyone in the Democratic party. The list included: the Kennedy’s, LBJ, Adlai Stevenson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hubert Humphrey and Harry Truman, to name but a few. Though you had to be 21 and I had just turned 16, she arranged to sneak me into the convention and I saw her schmoozing and working with these political icons. Though I was tempted to get up close and personal I was under strict orders. Put it this way, my “social distance” was at least 60 feet and closer to 600.

My mother never attended another Democratic National Convention, but for decades she never missed the California State conventions, and her social justice activism continued to expand. (She was also always PTA President, or so it seemed.) For example, at Temple Isaiah, in West Los Angeles, where my mother was a Board Member for 50 years, she created a Forum Lecture Series of public speakers. Her role included reaching out to, and often even picking up, these luminaries at LAX and bringing them to our congregation to give their talks.

This list included: Martin Luther King, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bobby Kennedy, authors Rod Serling and Ray Bradbury, cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead and award-winning journalist Daniel Schorr, to name but a few.

Unfortunately, late in her life, my mother suffered a series of mini-strokes that ultimately lead to Alzheimer’s. In those days there were really no medications to slow the disease. (Not that it’s all that great now.) My father had already passed so it was doubly painful for my sister and me because we felt helpless.

As my mother had been such an eloquent public speaker, almost from childhood, to watch her struggle to find the right words was very sad. She had such a vast vocabulary that she could usually find alternative words but, after a while, even that failed her. (I’m reminded when I often see Donald Trump’s brain search for a meaningful, multisyllabic word and end up with “big.”)

As my mother’s condition worsened, I approached Temple Isaiah’s Rabbi and suggested if they wanted to honor my mom’s service, they ought to do it before it was too late. So it was she was indeed feted. Various prominent people spoke, there were proclamations from the State Senate and Assembly, the City of Los Angeles and even telegrams from politicians, like former Governor Jerry Brown, whom she had mentored many decades earlier. It was a wonderful event but my mother insisted she wanted to speak to the congregation, which concerned my sister and me as we sat nervously in the front row.

Mom came to the podium, surveyed the packed synagogue and and humbly wondered why she deserved such an honor because she had loved and benefited so much from her service. It was a great first sentence, but the problem was, she repeated it word for word and seemed badly confused. Uh oh.

My sister immediately whispered that I go to the pulpit and lead her to a chair as it was obvious she wouldn’t be able to finish. I got to my feet when, summoning what was left of her articulation skills, my mother delivered the third sentence and the fourth and seemed to magically be on track. I quickly sat down, albeit with fingers crossed. But the truth was she went on to nail the speech.

Afterwards refreshments were served in the reception area next to the synagogue. My mother sat in a chair as people came by to compliment her on her speech but also to say what was essentially going to be goodbye. I worried that mom might not recognize people or be able to recall their names. But whatever cognitive magic that had occurred during her speech, lasted throughout the evening.

So, of all the many hurrahs in my mother’s life I witnessed, the one that moved me most was her last.

Jack is at: facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth and jackdailypress@aol.com

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