My Shiva Call

Dr. Edgar W. Hirshberg died Saturday, June 29th, 2003.

I am not Jewish, but if I were to follow the Jewish tradition of making a Shiva Call to Dr. Edgar W. Hirshberg's family during their time of mourning, here are the kind of things I would talk about, if talk were appropriate: 

Dr. Ed was about writing. When I first met him I was impressed that he, a prestigious college professor, knew so much about John D. McDonald and Travis McGee, one of my favorite authors and characters. Then, over the years, I learned that Ed knew a lot about everything associated with literature.

Some things about him seemed contradictory. I discovered the feisty kid had been an enlisted member of the Army Air Force Evaluation Board, an intelligence unit my dad served with, - yes, dangling participle, I'll take care of it, Ed -  doing bomb damage assessment in Europe during World War II. After the war Dr. Ed earned a bachelorís degree from Harvard, a masterís from Cambridge University in England, and a Ph.D. from Yale. He came to the University of South Florida in 1960 as a Charter Faculty Member and served the University with the rank of full professor until his retirement in 1990, and continued to serve the community as South Florida's and our own Professor Emeritus.

As a literary scholar, he was editor and publisher of the JDM Bibliophile, a magazine devoted to the life and works of Florida mystery writer John D. MacDonald. He also wrote two full-length critical biographies, numerous reviews and articles, and served for several years as book editor of the old Tampa Times and later the St. Petersburg Times.

I first met Ed in 1994 at the Suncoast Writers Conference as I struggled to learn the craft of writing. Over the following years he continued to teach me and many, many others by reading draft novels, offering critiques and advice and urging us all on - sorry, again - not a very good student, was I, Ed. He helped by just by being around, never too busy to offer a suggestion. Although he might forget a bit here and there, he still remembered more about writing and literature than I will ever begin to learn.

The Tampa Writers Alliance boasted of Dr. Ed as our most prestigious member and in 2001 named a category in our annual contest for him.

I feel somewhat daunted, an old army protestant writing about Shiva and Jewish mourning, very personal things, and I don't really know about Ed's religious beliefs. After all, I was never an intimate, just one of Ed's many informal students, and, I dearly hope, a friend. But I believe Ed would have said write - let the words flow, let your emotions and tear stains drip over the paper hiding your ignorance - so this is what I would have said, if I were to make a Shiva Call. I'm sure his family would nod and smile at my awkward memories, a counterpoint to their own, never quite enough to fully describe our old friend, father, husband.

No longer will he stand and introduce himself as the Tampa Writers Alliance oldest living member. He doesn't need to speak. We all know in our hearts he is standing beside us, ready to help.

Rest easy, Dr. Ed. I remember all your lessons and advice. I'll try harder. We all will.


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