By Steve Rothman
July 16, 2015
Leder-Volker Funeral Home, Teaneck, New Jersey
Thank you, Reverend Taylor, for being here. You honor us with your presence.
I am 62 years of age. When I was 24, I met the 44-year-old Richard Sheffield. By that time in his life, he appeared to me as a combination of and resembled (in many people’s minds) National Football League Legend Jim Brown, and Hollywood Icon, Cary Grant.
I would add, that when I got older, I realized that Richard Sheffield also possessed the knowledge of the great Italian political strategist, Niccollo Machiavelli, and the hard-won wisdom of the legendary Chinese war strategist Sun Tzu.
We met on one of Matty Feldman’s State Senate re-election campaigns. I had just graduated law school, was waiting to get a job, and to hear if I’d passed the bar. (Which I did:) Richard was Matty’s advisor, campaign coordinator, labor representative and friend. I was assigned to be a lieutenant in “Sheffield’s Campaign Army”.
It was at the end of that 1977 campaign, when Dick said to me: “Steve, I’m adopting you as my son.” I told him that I already had a father, but he said he didn’t mind. “You’ll be “Sheffield’s son, too.”
And so, our second father/son; mentor/protégé relationship; began and continued well on for over 30 years.
My family welcomed Dick as an important person in my life, and Dick had a wonderful relationship with my parents, my siblings and my children. Dick’s friends treated me, well, like Dick’s son.
Richard and I shared many many many morning, day, evening, night, late night, middle of the night meals, movies, adventures, thousands of telephone phone conversations, family events in Bergen County and in Newark, weddings, bar and bat mitzvah’s all during the course of those 30 plus years.
There is no time today to tell you of all that Dick meant to me—the depth and breadth of our relationship—-what he did for me, what we did for each other.
Suffice it to say that, we SHARED our lives, for over 30 years. WE told each other the most important and personal stories, from our earliest childhood memories on; though mostly (but not always) it was me listening to Sheff, who loved regaling me and teaching me: about all his life’s exploits and adventures. About his growing up in Newark—which was rough, but in no sense bleak; being a Sergeant/ Jump Master in the 82nd Airborne during the Korean War, the jumps that had gone well, and those that didn’t; hand to hand combat in Korea, in pitch black darkness; his return home to a hateful Jim Crow South; his emergence in Bergen County; his marriage; his children, his fights for civil and human rights. His political triumphs and failures. His loves and heartbreaks. His mistakes and his successes. So many many Sheff stories. Most that he said he’d never told another person—and that I have come to find out, he probably never did.
I used to say “Pop, I could write a book about you. But no one would believe me.” He said, “You’re right”.
Richard taught me so much, about so many things.
He loved me dearly and I loved him dearly.
In later years, when his health really began to deteriorate quickly, I remember sitting with him in his Englewood house that was built for him by the stream, reminiscing and going over his stories and our stories, again and again. I also remember more than half a dozen times, racing to a local hospital emergency room, upon hearing from Richard or others, that he’d suffered (what he called) a mini-stroke—And how many times I wept with him as we both thought that was the end.
Richard Sheffield helped so many people; profoundly, in life-altering ways.
He led important causes—almost always from behind the scenes—but everyone knew that Sheffield had a hand in everything that happened in Englewood and in this region.
I cannot begin to tell you the loss that I’ve felt and feel ever since his slow and unbearable mental decline….
when I heard the news of his passing….
The finality is here.
I will never forget our times together. And what I—like so many—owe to him.
My life was changed forever,
my career established,
my destiny set,
once I became Sheffield’s son.
A final word of thanks to Leon, Ellen, Karen and all those who made Dick’s life comfortable and took care of him these last years. Speaking for myself and all those who loved Dick, we owe you an enormous debt: One that we can never, fully repay.
To Richard Sheffield: A man whom men—OF ALL STATIONS AND BACKGROUNDS—feared, admired and wanted to be like. A man whom women loved and were drawn to.
Bless You Pop.
Thank you for everything.
Rest In Peace.
You will never be forgotten.