By Maxime Devillaz
Emily R. Lehrman, a librarian, editor and translator who served on the LIU Post faculty for 28 years, passed away after heart surgery on Jan. 13, at North Shore Hospital. She was 91.
With editorial skills that surpass many native-English speakers, Emily became a resource to everyone who knew her, according to her oldest son, Leonard Lehrman.
Emily grew up in the Soviet Union before moving to the U.S. at age 12 with her mother. With no knowledge of the English language, Emily started from scratch, and eventually obtained a college degree at Simmons University in Mass., graduating with honors on a full scholarship.
She continued to stride along the educational path, earning a masters in Russian literature at Columbia University before working as a secretary for the department chair at the time, Ernest J. Simmons, following graduation, and later the American Soviet Medical Society.
Emily taught Russian at Adelphi College before heading back to the school bench to pick up a second masters in library science at C.W. Post. Eventually, the doors to the B. Davis Schwartz Memorial Library opened up, and Emily came back to spend 28 years as a member of the faculty at the university, most of that time in the Instructional Media Center (IMC), where she has left her mark.
“She was organized, exacting, and detailed,” said Diane Podell, a colleague from the Periodicals department. “Nothing escaped her!”
Manju Prasad-Rao, head of the IMC, nodded in agreement. Like many others, she couldn’t help but make use of Emily’s proofreading talent. “My head could only rest content if I had shown her my work,” she said.
Word on Emily’s abilities rapidly spread to other departments in the library, “Perhaps we librarians came to depend on her too much — perhaps we even imposed on her generosity and linguistic abilities,” said Louis Pisha, a colleague from the reference department. “But she never so much as hinted that the rest of us might heed her excellent example and work harder on cultivating our own relatively meager compositional and editorial skills.”
Perhaps the explanation behind her clarity and simplicity with words came from Emily’s expressive manners with her mother Sima, who was deaf, her son Leonard remarked. Perhaps it was just as simple as it was complex — a lesson worth remembering.
“She would not just change things, but she would explain why she changed it,” said Maria Zarycky, a librarian at IMC, hinting that Emily, unlike many Americans, actually had to pay attention to learn the grammar correctly since it differed greatly from the Russian she grew up with.
But Emily’s critical eye for mistakes and clarification as an editor did not equate with her demeanor. “She was very fair to people, sometimes almost to a fault,” Pisha said. “She did try to find the good side in what people did and what they said, and she was unfailingly polite in her approach.”
When conversing with her colleagues at IMC, Emily would always make sure to follow up on everybody’s well being. “She even asked how my family was doing, and made sure to know my family members by name, even better than I sometimes,” said Jean O’Neill-Uhl, who has now taken over Emily’s job at IMC.
Despite being courteous, Emily was also a woman full of own expressions. Her artistry within music and literature, with countless poetic translations, has continuously bled through her family’s veins. Emily was also very politically active, bringing her children along to anti- war demonstrations in the early ‘60s. The whole family continued to participate in demonstrations throughout ensuing decades, according to Leonard.
At work, however, it was another story, or often so, no stories at all. “Emily was multi-dimensional,” Zarycky said. “She had a lot of interests, and her job was very important to her, but I don’t think it defined her sometimes as much as people’s jobs define them.”
Despite being a hard worker, Emily was always home when the kids came back from school, according to Leonard Lehrman. His brother agreed. “She wanted to know everything I was doing, and explain to her even the most advanced technologies I was working with,” Paul Lehrman said. “Although one thing she could never grasp, and she asked me repeatedly, was why anyone would need an iPad.”
Her sons believe Emily’s multi-faceted agenda was really based on one particular idea. “Along with her loyalty, her ability to cope, and her love of knowledge and books, my mother had one overwhelming character trait: she wanted to be useful,” Paul Lehrman said.
Leonard Lehrman traced the roots of her heritage to find an explanation. Rejecting any religious beliefs, he described his mother as a humanist with grounds as a secular Jew, somewhat distilled through her Russian socialist background. “She was always asking people, ‘You can’t just be against everything, what are you for?’” he said.
She is survived by husband Nathaniel Lehrman, sons Leonard and Paul Lehrman, daughter Betty Lehrman, and her grandchildren.
An excerpt from Paul Lehrman’s memorial speech reads, “When I was about five, and going through perhaps my first existential crisis,
I asked her, “Mommy, why are we here?” And her answer, without hesitation, was, ‘To help other people.’ I took that in for a second and then said, ‘But why are THEY here?’” She just laughed.”
Upcoming events in Emily Lehrman’s memory:
A lecture/seminar on Jewish Opera at the Community Church, 40 E. 35th St., Manhattan:
– Wednesday, Apr. 22, on the Holocaust at 2 – 3:30 p.m.
– Wednesday, May 13, on Emma Goldman (75th anniversary commemoration of her death) at 2 – 3:30 p.m.
Songs of Conscience performed by The Metropolitan Philharmonic Chorus:
– Sunday, Oct. 18, 2:30 p.m. at Freeport Memorial Library, 144 W. Merrick Rd., Freeport, N.Y.
– Sunday, Nov. 1, 2:30 p.m. at Bryant Library, Paper Mill Rd., Roslyn, N.Y.
For more information on these free-of-charge events, and others scheduled for the fall, email firstname.lastname@example.org.