The Shimon Camiel I knew--and I cannot claim to have known him well--was a man of sharp intelligence and fine, sometimes acerbic wit; a man with a deep social conscience and a commitment to justice; a man who sought to understand himself and his place in the world around him, and who thought it right to devote his life to the service of those in need. He was the son of a wily refugee from Nazi-dominated Europe who became, in this country, a successful business man. Shimon grew up to be a conscientious socialist who left his native California for a spell as an Israeli kibbutznik early in life, and returned to his home country to become a student and practitioner in the field of public health. He was diagnosed at the age of 60 with early onset Alzheimer's, yet managed to write three books before succumbing to the devastation of that disease. He died this past Monday, and was accompanied to his grave on Wednesday by more than two hundred of his family, friends and colleagues. He was two months younger than myself.
I think Shimon would have been at once delighted and wryly amused by the crowd that gathered at his gravesite, and touched by the loving eulogies from the family he leaves behind. He had little time, I think, for ceremony, and still less for pretension. He did not mince words when he had an opinion to express. In a way, it was merciful that he was spared the spectacle of what passes, these days, for conservatism in America, since it stands in denial of everything he stood for and believed in. He would have been appalled by the rank injustice and the disregard for the less privileged in our society; by the constant and continuing attacks on a health care law that only begins to address the needs of great numbers of our population; by the greed that drives our financial system and assures the persistence of poverty, even hunger, in the richest country in the history of the world; by the bland denial of scientific evidence and the neglect of our environment.
More than ever, we need men and women of Shimon's convictions and dedication in the world today. It is sad that we lost one of the finest of them. He was, above all, a mensch--a truly human being.