Monday, March 06, 2006
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When you first met Audrey Merkin you knew you were meeting someone you would remember for the rest of your life.
I met Audrey in 1981 when I first got involved in the California Young Republicans. Over the next 15 years we developed an enduring friendship through Young Republican politics.
Sometimes we were allies and sometimes we were not. But Audrey was always someone fun to be around.
I can't think of a single time I was with her at a dinner table where she wasn't the complete focus of the evening. She had a laugh that was infectious.
Being taken into Audrey's confidence over the phone always made me feel like the most important person in the world. Audrey knew how to work the phone. She was legendary for it. Audrey always knew the latest gossip and was ready to dish -- in exchange for receiving a few juicy morsels to begin the conversation.
After years of active participation, Audrey rose to be the Co-Chairman of the Young Republican National Federation -- elected in Seattle in 1987.
Living in Vegas, she loved to have friends visit her for a weekend. I can remember a few weekends in the 80s that always ended with Brunch at Caesars Palace -- the object of brunch was always to stack as many plastic champagne glasses as high as you could. (Our group seemed pretty good at it.) Not the best activity before hitting I-15 for the drive back to Los Angeles but, oh well.
Pulling pranks on Audrey was always so much fun because once she figured out what was happening she laughed harder than anyone else.
Once Audrey, Danny Dellicompagni and I had to drive to Northern California for some convention. Turns out Brian Perry was going to the same convention but was starting out somewhere in the Central Valley. I made a secret plan with Brian to pick him up at a certain freeway on-ramp at a particular time.
About 20 minutes before reaching the on-ramp I began telling Audrey and Danny they were boring me and since we had a long way to go I was going to pick-up a hitchhiker. They thought I was kidding.
A few minutes later I told them I was serious about helping out a hitchhiker and if there was one standing on the next on-ramp I was going to pick him up.
Off in the distance we could see a hitchhiker. I told Danny, sitting in the back seat, to move over. That's when it hit the fan. As I started to slow down Danny was kicking the back of my seat saying "don't you dare." Audrey was yelling that it wasn't safe to pick-up hitchhikers and I was out of my mind. "You don't even pick-up hitchhikers in Israel," she said.
As the car slowed to a stop Audrey screamed, "Oh my God, it's Brian Perry!" She thought it was so funny and we laughed about it for the next 20 miles.
Another time GeezBob and I thought it would be really funny to sneak into Audrey's hotel room and rub Kool-Aid on her bath towels. We had this funny mental picture of Audrey stepping out of the shower and as she dried off exclaiming, "Help me, I'm purple." Unfortunately, this prank didn't go over so well.
We got caught coming out of her room "purple-handed." So Audrey never did use the towels. In fact she said the Kool-Aid dust in her room had ruined one of her expensive dresses. She said I had to pay her for the destroyed dress. I said I would but only if she gave me the dress after I paid for it so I could be her for Halloween. All was forgiven on the Kool-Aid caper.
Last Friday when I learned Audrey had died (I appreciate Jim Arnone, Brian Perry and Pam Taylor making sure I knew) I immediately began planning to attend the funeral.
Audrey's funeral took place today at Temple Beth Sholom in Las Vegas. A huge crowd was on hand, in fact the Temple had to open up their overflow seating area.
It was a touching, yet simple, service.
Because Audrey had died so suddenly and in such a difficult manner the Rabbi explained that instead of having the family tell the story over and over they were going to have a doctor explain exactly what had happened. According to the doctor who addressed the funeral, Audrey died from Stevens-Johnson Syndrome http://www.emedicine.com/emerg/topic555.htm
This is an extremely rare (7 in 1 million population) acute allergic reaction. Little is known about the syndrome and it is unknown what triggered it in Audrey's situation.
Next John Velasco, now a non-denominational, ecumenical Christian minister, said a few words describing Audrey as "a treasure."
The Temple's vice president, a personal friend of Audrey's, began her comments by holding up her cellphone and saying, "it still has a message on it. 'Hi, it's Audrey. Call me.'" The whole crowd laughed warmly because we've all received numerous message exactly like that from Audrey.
And the Temple's President spoke, focusing on Audrey's tireless work on behalf of the Temple.
Following the service, Audrey was buried at the King David Memorial Cemetery. As is the Jewish custom, those gathered were invited to shovel some dirt into the open grave.
What sight is more wrenching than watching a mother shovel some dirt into her own child's grave? My heart broke when Eunice Merkin did that for Audrey.
After the graveside service there was a reception back at Temple Beth Sholom. (Audrey would be happy to know the food was excellent and beautifully presented and her YR friends remained well-behaved.)
Formerly Young Republicans in attendance today included:
Dr. Michael Clarke
Dave and Andrea De Sormeau
Amador County Supervisor Richard and Laurie Forrester
Former Utah Congresswoman Enid Greene
Bob Rubin of Boca Raton
Doug Sklar, now living in Eastern Washington State
Tom Van Voorst
Mike Vahl -- who made the motion in 1989 for the California Young Republicans to censure me, not that I'm bitter.
Cheers to you, Audrey.