A Takoma Park resident for 33 years, Norm Gleichman died January 11, accidentally drowning while vacationing with his family in Mexico. He is survived by his wife Marie Ritzo and their two children Nick and Eve. Both Gleichman, 58, and his wife are well known in the Takoma Park community.
He was the deputy general counsel of the Service Employees International Union. Before that, he worked as a lawyer for the Communications Workers of America, and the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.
Mr. Gleichman was active in community theater. He was preparing to play a lead role in a Prince George’s Little Theatre production when he died. He played the part of Antioni Salieri in “Amadeus” at the Greenbelt Arts Center in 2009. He also appeared in productions at Takoma Repertory and Silver Spring Stage.
His wife Marie Ritzo was appointed interim Ward 2 city councilmember in 2005 when Heather Mizeur stepped down to run for the state legislature.
Barry Toiv, a friend and neighbor, delivered a eulogy – here edited.
Eulogy by Barry Toiv
All of Takoma Park’s a stage, and in January we lost one of our most cherished players.
Norman Gleichman – devoted unionist, admired colleague, community activist, talented amateur actor, caring neighbor, wonderful husband and father, and a dear friend – died while on vacation with his family. He was 58, and beloved by all who knew him.
Chris and I knew Norman since the day nearly 30 years ago when we moved in across Central Avenue from him and Marie. Our two boys, their Nick and our Daniel, have had a lifelong friendship, as have their Eve and our Nora, as did the four of us.
At a memorial event at the Service Employees International Union, I witnessed an outpouring of love and respect from his colleagues there. Here are some of the words they used: smart … enthusiastic … role model … mentor … wisdom … humor … passion … care … inspired … professionalism … mensch … noble … courageous … hard-ass … irritating … gentle … goofy … quirky … smile … soul … comrade … friend … intellect … joy … love.
Norm’s colleagues saw not only the great lawyer but the man who balanced perfectly his work and his family and outside interests, and inspired them to do the same.
The labor movement was the work of Norman’s life. He was born with the union label, to a labor activist father and a mother who was an SEIU pioneer who helped pave the way for women union leaders.
Norm was a performer. He had a personality bigger than life, an intellect and curiosity that made him the most engaging person in the room, and an interest in other people that made instant connections wherever he was. He could talk to you easily about European history, Shakespeare, or SEIU election rules. He could recite from Mel Brooks’s 2000-Year-Old Man.
Norm brought humor to everything. When he scheduled a lunch, the appointment came to your inbox not as lunch with Norm, but lunch with Dominique Strauss-Kahn, or Sandy Koufax, or Navy Seal Team Six. Taking care of our trash when we were away, he texted a photo of the trash awaiting pickup. Then came a photo of our empty front lawn – our trash had been kidnapped.
The Passover Seder was made for Norman Gleichman, because he was a consummate storyteller. The usual list of ten plagues was fine, but Norm also had ten modern plagues to recite: unemployment … war … global warming … fundamentalism … terrorism … the Republican budget … Sarah Palin … John Boehner … Newt Gingrich … and the New York Yankees.
Then there were Norm’s numerous actual stage performances in community theaters. We thought he was best as Salieri in Amadeus, a special role given his love of Mozart.
Norm served the Takoma Park community in many ways, such as fighting to unify the city in one county, serving on the Commission on Landlord-Tenant Affairs, teaching community kids to read, and recording books for the disabled.
He was involved in community politics as well. Former City Council member Rino Aldrighetti remembers Norm’s nominating speech that turned from a solid case for Rino’s candidacy to something more like a roast.
Norman was special to all the kids who grew up in our neighborhood. He was always interested in what they were doing, what they thought. They were crushed by his death.
As were Chris and I, who will always cherish the times when life slowed down – snowstorms, power outages. Back and forth we would all go between the two houses for meals, games, movies.
Norm loved Marie. He loved their life and their kids. Nick once made up a story that sent Daddy to outer space. But Norm was thrilled that Nick chose law school and that he likes the law. They became very close these past few years. Eve, a writer and talented musician, was the apple of Norm’s eye. Walking into their house on a lazy Sunday, you would find Eve cuddled on the sofa with Norm.
Anything Marie did was all right with Norman. I don’t think he saw a piece of mail in over 30 years. And it turned out the nice Italian girl he married is actually French. Norm’s birthday was April Fool’s Day. Every year, Marie threw a surprise party. Every year, Norm was surprised.
We’ve all suffered a great loss. A line from “It’s a Wonderful Life” says it best. One man’s life touches so many others – when he’s not there it leaves an awfully big hole.
Nobody has left a bigger hole in the lives of his friends and family, among his colleagues, or in his community than Norman Gleichman.