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Tuesday, April 7, 2015


My father died yesterday, in the early morning hours. The attendant went into his room and might have seen a last breath around 1:30 in the morning. Not official of course, not until the nurse came by about three, we got the call over at the house at 3:30 a.m. I might have been staring at the phone, in any case I knew by the ring, that it was all over. I knew instantly. My stepmother knew too. I knocked on her door and she confirmed my fears. We hugged and waited for the morning.

My father was an amazing man, I have written about him many times before. A different man, an imperfect man, much like his son, but exceedingly brilliant. Not native to our shores, he arrived in the most humble way and in the most difficult of times, yet he scrapped and scraped and fought and studied and eventually willed his way to tremendous successes, interspersed of course, with occasional failures.

I have been delegated with the task of writing an obituary and here is a draft I penned this morning. Not quite roughed out. Do you have any idea how much the newspapers charge for these things these days? Would love to alliterate a bit but I frankly can't afford to.
Longtime San Diego, Rancho Santa Fe and Fresno resident Amos Sommers passed away in Clovis, CA on April 6, 2015. He is survived by his loving wife Shela, daughters Elizabeth Sommers and her husband Michael Gallaher of Vienna, VA, Barbara Sommers and husband Sandy from West Palm Beach, FL, Laurie Sommers Tait and husband Steve, her children Tyler, Kellen and Madison, all from Denver, CO. He has two sons, Robert Sommers who lives in Fallbrook with his wife Leslie and David (Buzz) and his wife Julia Sommers, Toronto,Canada, along with David's children Rachel, Zachary and Jacob and Amos's great grandchild Roslyn. Amos has two stepchildren Sarah Cole-Braham and Richard Cole that he loved as his own as well as Sarah's son Bennett. Amos was preceded in death by his beloved daughter, Amie Leah Sommers.
Amos had been suffering from a long term illness and recently had a stroke. Amos was born in Tel Aviv in 1926 to Israel Kaitz and Pessa Shkarlat. He came to the United States at the age of 13 with his parents and younger sister Terry, all now deceased, and the family settled in Detroit.
Amos was a very bright man, he received a scholarship to UCLA, lettered in wrestling, soccer and football and graduated with an accounting degree. He was a World War II veteran, an army photographer with a top secret clearance, and he developed and transmitted the first picture of a nuclear bomb blast.
Amos moved to San Diego in the early 1950's, joining American Housing Guild. He started his own firm, Sommers Development and created some of the premier neighborhoods in San Diego, including Del Cerro Highlands and Alvarado Estates. He built thousands of homes and apartments in the region over a long and successful career.
Amos was a renaissance man. He loved opera, classical music, economics, photography, studying physics, fine automobiles, paintings and antiques. A crack mathematician and blackjack player, he was a master at equations. He was a world traveler but mostly loved being anywhere with Shela, the love of his life and the woman the rest of the family is eternally grateful for, for always standing faithfully at his side.
There are no services planned.  Donations in Amos Sommers name can be made to the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego.
I drove up Saturday morning, alone. Leslie wasn't feeling well. Easter weekend traffic was murder.  I arrived at my stepmother's door in the afternoon and we soon drove to the home along with my stepsister. My dad was laying on his side, very weak, ribs distended, looking much like his own father once did in very similar straits. Incapable of speech, eyes rolled up, he still had the inherent love and presence to grab each of our hands and kiss them tenderly.

I went back to visit him again and we were careful to make sure that he wasn't thirsty and that his lips were moist. I don't know if he could understand me, he definitely heard me but I told him in a loud voice that it was okay to fly away and release; that he could go now, we would all be fine back here. I think I shocked my companions who hadn't necessarily told him about his chances and didn't want to upset him. But I know my father and this is not the way he would have wanted to go out. 

© robert sommers 2015
I visited him once again Easter morning and wouldn't/couldn't just sit at his side and wait for his ultimate demise. My brain needed a chance to process it all and I decided to head for the hills and clear my head. I took off for Yosemite, about a two hour drive northeast. High country.

I headed for Glacier Point, the mountains to the east all still bedecked with winter frosting. Actually there was still a little snow on the road to Glacier Point, which has just opened at the earliest time in its history due to drought and climate change. This early in the year, irrespective of the drought, all the falls still had lots of water.

I hiked around a bit and took a few pictures. My long lens and wide angle are back in the shop in New York so I used the 18-135mm Nikkor but forgot to bring along a polarizing filter. Oh well? It felt great to scramble around, my lungs raw from the elevation, frigid cold and my sorry ass cardiac state. Love the resolution and sharpness of the new camera. Way too many muggles on the floor of the valley below.

My father was a photographer, both he and my stepfather got me interested at a young age. My dad gave me an early Zeiss Ikon Voigtlander, a Minox, his old Topcon when I was a child. Later he recycled down a nice Konica. He was a Hasseblad man, had the wide angle version as well as the standard. Loved developing in our darkroom, a darkroom he eventually donated to the Army Navy Academy in Carlsbad.

I used to think that I was a very different person than my dad, but over time we become more and more identical, in ways I really don't think I have the strength to identify at this moment.

My dad was something else. He loved See's chocolate lollipops, all three flavors, or at least he did before the diabetes. Red pistachios. A good steak. A top flight caesar salad like the one they used to make at the Torrey Club. He favored mustang convertibles, then E-types, then his beloved Aston Martin Db-5 convertible. The Mulliner Silver Wraith. Verdi, Puccini, Montoya, Casals. A world class collection of antiques and european court paintings.

Bullfighting. Loved going with him to the Bullring by the Sea, listen to the crowds in the stands hurl the crude epithets el matador no tiene cajones, watch the occasional fights in the stands, the pageantry, learned to never sit on the sunny side. He once saw Manolete fight and took film of the great Carlos Arruza on horseback, film that has unfortunately now been lost or perhaps discarded, during early trips to Spain. 

He had a commercial tuna fishing boat with his first construction partner John Potous. They both started business as Sommers-Potous, a La Mesa framing contractor, the original framer for AVCO in Rancho Bernardo. My dad had three principal superintendents over the years, excluding me, first Cliff Hitt, than Roger Soper, then Luis Orrantia. They all contributed greatly to his success.

He loved Maui, started visiting during the Lahaina Whaling Spree in the mid 1960's, he really enjoyed his favorite spot, the Napili Kai. Confided in me once that he had voted for Henry Wallace. Was a big fan of NBA basketball, had courtside seats for years.

He also loved number problems, magic squares, studying relativity and physics, he was an amazing dos man who pushed Supercalc 5 further than any other mortal man in history, creating algorithms and equations and logic sets in his spreadsheets that amazed the experts. He wrote tracts on economics, was a wealthy democrat but more the center aligned Scoop Jackson, Hubert Humphrey type. 

A black jack savant, like his son. Wasn't particularly fond of little dogs. Liked chess. Claimed 7 no trump the first hand he played in bridge. Enjoyed hacking around the old Stardust golf course.

Dad traveled all over the world, up the Orinoco, the fjords, six weeks in China on the Pearl River. Went with me to Africa, (with our respective spouses, my last one) one of the highlights of my life, no matter the company. Samburu, Ngorogoro, Olduvai,  William Holden's Mt. Kenya Safari Club, dinner at the Tamarind in Nairobi.

We were in a pretty remote Masai village when I snapped this shot of Dad and Shela. Never losing his native yiddish and hebrew brogues, some people said that he looked and sounded like Kissinger.

Dad was tough. He wouldn't let me work for his construction company until I worked for two years for two of the biggest scumbags in the business, just so nobody could accuse him of babying me. We went at it but eventually created a great working relationship, with me handling architecture and building, Amos the finance, planning and banking and David the law side. He carried my ass at times and I saved his ass multiple times, once kicking and screaming when a V.P. got serious religion and left us a couple million in the hole. I made it work, everybody eventually got paid.

He worked through it, he always worked through it, brilliant, ballsy, calculating. He didn't interfere too much in my life, well he did disown me for a few years when he disapproved of my choice of wife at the time. And he was basically right. But the Sommers clan has, shall we say, "significant control issues" so we banged heads for a few years and then he needed me and I came back to help and we made up and healed and never looked back. Loved him, respected him. Loved his laugh. His hum, his whistling.

Dad was sort of always on the outside in a way. Grew up teased for his accent in the mean streets of Detroit. Fought his way through the Polish and Arab section. Tough being the only jewish kid in Hamtramck.

He went to school at Wayne State, worked 80 hours a week. Took a literature class once from W. Somerset Maugham, played football for the legendary Bronko Nagurski. Met my mother at UCLA, she from the Theater Arts department.

He didn't make close friends that easily. His best friend was the insurer Norman Lawrence and it left a big hole in his life when Norman died. He loved Tim in Lahaina. Marvin, Morrie, Jim, Ralph Goffin. Dad had friends but he also enjoyed his own company and the company of his wife. Liked to hear from his kids.

He had a lot of favorite haunts. When I was a kid it was the Charcoal House, Tarantinos, the Islandia, Anthony's or Pernicanos on special occasions. Lubachs. The Grant Grill. Old Trieste. The old Royal Palms in Carlsbad. Blumer's, of course. Top Shelf. La Valencia and La Costa for lunch. Ship Ahoy. Pastanova. Pinos, Busalacchi.

When we were kids on Mt. Helix sometimes he would make jelly omelets, which sound terrible but were actually really good. He could keep a soccer ball up in the air for a really long time, flew kites as a child in Israel, helped his mom sew and got whipped one day for lowering himself out of a second story window on an electric cord to go play.

Dad told me to watch out for rock when building a subdivision and to never get into a jv deal with a lawyer, or do business with anybody you couldn't afford to sue. Unfortunately he broke his own rule and it was almost fatal.

You get one father, I was lucky enough to get this one. A man of classical sensibility and refinement, who liked to quote Machiavelli and fancy himself a benevolent despot. 

Curious that he shares the same Y dna haplogroup as Einstein and Napoleon. Dad, you accomplished so much, you will never be forgotten. My rock.

He loved us, he foregave us, he took pride in all of his children. He did the best that he could. Thank you Dad, you personally gave me so much. I love you. Thank you so much Shela, for taking such wonderful care of him all of these years. It would have been impossible without you.


Isak said...

No father could ask for a more loving, more eloquent, more gracious tribute from a son. My heart goes out to you, Robert, for the loss of your treasure of a dad...

Ken Seals said...

Beautiful job on all. I'm sure your dad would be very proud of this.

Sanoguy said...

Wonderful, Robert!! It brought back memories of my own Dad who passed about 3 years ago at age 96. Although they came from very different backgrounds, I could have said many of the same things about my Dad.

Coincidentally, my Dad loved the Sierras. He grew up, through the 1920s in a place called Big Creek. Big Creek is in the western Sierras, just below Lake Edison and Huntington Lake. When he retired in the mid-70s, he went back to the Sierras many times, hiking and skiing. He did a solo walk of the Muir Trail at age 75… about 200 miles!

My condolences to you and your family!

Anonymous said...

one of the greatest generation people that shaped our world , our heart hurts for your loss but rejoices for your inheritance of his character and yours makes you the man you are today , jeff and gena

Anonymous said...

So sorry to hear of your
Loss robert!!!
But what a wonderful life!!!

Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

Your father sounds like a fabulously interesting man. Your love and respect for him jump off the page.
I'm very sorry for your loss.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about that Robert.

Jerry Hall said...

That was a very touching memoriam for your Dad.
I hope that the memorys of your father will bring you comfort during this time of loss. All the best to you and your family.

Douglas Keller said...

Moving post, Robert. Thank you. My sympathies for your loss.

Anonymous said...

The blessing of your father lives on in your memories and good deeds. Peace be with you at this time.

Blue Heron said...

Thanks to everybody for their condolences, both public and private. It was Bill Phillips who alerted me to the wonderful juxtaposition of my father with the images of Half Dome, both monumental and immovable rocks in my life.

Anonymous said...

I was not in my office yesterday or I would have responded sooner, you are such a wonderful writer it just amazes me. Your words just flow onto the page and into persons heart like warm butter. I am so sorry for your families loss. What a wonderful life he shared with you and now you have shared small bits with us.
Thank you for letting us in while you where letting go.

NYSTAN said...

So sorry to read this. Your Dad was quite a guy and as they say, 'the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.' My heartfelt condolences to you and your family.

Anonymous said...

Robert, Beautifully said with loving that shined through with every word for your Dad. Amos was an amazing human being, and was kind and humorous to me. I felt fortunate to have met him and truly have mixed emotions that he has escaped from the confusion that tormented him in his later years. Tom

North County Film Club said...

So sorry, Robert. Your father was so lucky to have someone to write so movingly about his life...and what a life it was! He sounds like such a fascinating person.

Kim Dinardosmith said...

Dear Robert,
So sorry to hear about your Dad's passing.
Your father had an amazing life.
I know your Dad would of been honored & humbled by your moving tribute.
Love, Kim & Pat

Unknown said...

Sorry to hear about this Robert. Your Dad was a great man and you did a great job of this tribute. I'm sure he was proud to have a son like you!

Randy Walters said...

So sorry to hear of your loss; I know how strange and difficult it can be. Your post was amazing; my cheap advice is to look after yourself, and give yourself a lot of slack/downtime/sleep and good food & wine.

If not now, when?

Blue Heron said...

Thank you Randy for some good advice. I am struggling...

Jan Duggan said...

Robert that was wonderful and loving tribute to your father. I hope your
fond memories will help assuage some of your sorrow. Jan Duggan