A MAN I MUCH ADMIRED and loved, Simon Epstein, has passed.
I’ve known Simon since I was a kid in the Ocean Beach Youth Group on Fire Island, where he was my counselor at that summer day camp. Simon was the senior counselor in the place. Of course, that was a long, long time ago—70 years, in fact. There were three Epstein bothers who lived with their parents. The father was Dr. Joseph Epstein, a noted psychiatrist. Simon was the oldest and, I think, the kindest. The second brother, Fred, turned out to be the top pediatric neurosurgeon in the world. The third, Abram, was my friend who now writes interesting books about Jesus and Judaism. I had kept in touch with Simon for all these years and at his funeral service in Connecticut, one person after another rose to sing his praises and laud his accomplishments.
In recent times, I would tell Simon when I was interviewing former governor Andrew Cuomo on the radio so he could listen. I’d call and ask him what he thought about our give and take. After one such program, this kind man said that maybe I was being too polite to Cuomo because I called him “Sir” in the course of the conversation. He thought I was being too deferential, and I got the idea that he thought Cuomo didn’t deserve that and that I was putting myself and my accomplishments down. He may have been more insightful than I thought at the time.
I remember one incident on Fire Island that I think bears retelling. Each of us had to engage in a public service type of project and Simon was in charge of the CIT program at the camp. I was probably 12 or 13 years old at the time and already interested in politics. Simon, who was seven years older, supervised my project which discussed the Ocean Beach, Fire Island, government. Now I am not claiming anything, but years later I worked hard for a master’s degree in politics, and even harder for a doctorate in political science. I was an academic for most of my life and I rose to full professor and then joint professor at SUNY New Paltz and SUNY Albany. None of this is braggadocio but everyone has to start somewhere and working with Simon was my beginning. I was scheduled to have lunch with Simon a few days after he died and as I sat at the funeral and heard several of his colleagues speak about his achievements in psychopharmacology and psychiatry, I thought about what he meant to me when I was 12 years old.
Simon’s late wife, Pat, had multiple sclerosis most of her life and Simon took legendary care of her. When Pat died, a good deal of Simon’s life’s work disappeared. He and Pat would come visit us in Great Barrington and we would eat out together. A lot of people would not have stood up to the task of taking care of a partner with such a handicap. Simon was extraordinary. Most people considered Simon a saint.
Simon was a pioneer in acknowledging that ADHD was a real sickness and among the first to recognize that it could be ameliorated with drug therapy, including a reliance on Ritalin. For a while he produced a well-received newsletter, published quarterly, teaching others about drug therapy. So there are a lot of other people in the field of mental health who owe Simon a great deal for his help.
Simon was largely confined to a wheel chair but in his last weeks he made appointments to see so many of his old friends. Just before he died, Simon told close friends and relatives that he had lived a good life. He sure had and I will never forget him.