Date of this Version
In 1997, I walked into Joe Lelyveld’s office and handed him a newspaper clipping about his parents. Lelyveld was executive editor of the New York Times, and I was one of his nearly 1,100 news department employees. The clipping, from a World-Herald column, noted that the Lelyvelds had once lived in Omaha; that Arthur, Joe’s father, had been rabbi at Temple Israel in the early 1940s; that his mother, Toby, had taught at the University of Omaha; and that the Lelyvelds had divorced in 1964. The news was that Toby had died in New York at age 85. If I thought that taking him the clipping might give me even the most tenuous personal connection to my boss—I grew up in Nebraska, too—I was wrong. Lelyveld, known to have a somewhat awkward manner socially, looked up as I gave him the clipping but said nothing. He offered only a small, enigmatic smile, and I left. Now, having read “Omaha Blues,” Lelyveld’s quietly powerful memoir of growing up with parents who often seemed to have little interest in him, I realize that in trying to buy a personal moment with Lelyveld, I may have been using the wrong currency.