Louis Goldstein: An American Lesson

It must have been Louis Goldstein, whose spiritual birthday was indeed the Fourth of July, George M. Cohen was thinking about when he wrote the song "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy."

For through 85 years of this troubled century - when patriotism has not always been in fashion - Louis Goldstein was such a proud nephew of his Uncle Sam that all who met him were challenged to examine our consciences and count our blessings.

His was the life the United States of America was born for. Word of the American Dream had reached his father, Goodman Goldstein, in far distant Prussia, summoning him across oceans to take his share of its promise. That Goodman Goldstein did, for when his ship came into Baltimore, he took a peddler's cart and earned from it his fortune.

In childhood, all of us learn a story that guides our life. The American Dream was the Goldstein story, and the son of Gus and his Latvian wife Belle Butcher read it as an epic, taking to heart and soul his parents' proof that dreams planted in this fertile soil and nourished with hard work will bear good fruit.

"My father taught me how to work hard and meet people. I started working in that country store when I was 11 years old. He taught me how to meet the customers: how to be kind and to remember people's names and where they were from," Louis Goldstein told NBT in an interview in 1996.

Home schooled to be friendly and hardworking, Louis Goldstein planted and harvested his own American Dream. Whether as a clerk in the family store, a marine fighting in World War II or comptroller of Maryland, he loved and served people, loved and served his country, loved and served his state - and with such joy and energy.

It was hard to resist that zest, as Bill Burton writes elsewhere in this paper. It made all who met him like the man, and we were many. At the stories of how he climbed a utility pole to shake a lineman's hand how he shook every hand in a department store - including the mannequin's how he waved at a barn in case somebody was inside looking out - we laugh with the chuckle that knows truth when it sees it.

Louis Goldstein's ubiquity and energy also made him seem perpetual, which may have been why it was so easy to call him simply The Comptroller.

The news of The Comptroller's death sent all of Maryland reeling, in the deep and personal way we do when an archetype - an FDR, a Kennedy, a Princess Diana - is taken from us. So the we who solemnly climbed the steps to the Statehouse to say our farewells on Monday, as The Comptroller lay in state in the rotunda, was as diverse as America. We were young and old and middle-aged. We were African American, Euro-American, Asian American, Hispanic American.

As we glanced up, tear-blurred, from Our Comptroller's closed, flag-draped coffin, we saw one another and thought, perhaps, how wide and good and sweet and abundant is the American Dream. Let's hope, though we have lost Louie, we can keep that feeling for one another and for the new wave of immigrants from Latin America and Asia who are planting their dreams in America.

As the workforce, the values and indeed fabric of many of our communities change, let's remember the Goldstein lesson: there is enough to go around if we give as much as we take.

At the end, we appreciate the timing of Death's call for Louie, our Yankee Doodle Dandy: on the eve of America's own feast day, after, we can only hope, Maryland's beloved Comptroller had kept the family habit of reading aloud the Declaration of Independence; after, we know, he had taken a swim.

| Back to Archives |

VolumeVI Number 27
July 9-15, 1998
New Bay Times

| Homepage |