In Memoriam: Harvey Brudner
Harvey had a PhD in theoretical physics and during his life, was president of Medical Development, Inc. in Jersey City, Dean of Science and Technology at the New York Institute of Technology, president of Westinghouse Learning Corporation, and research scientist at the Power Authority of the State of New York.
But beyond his intellectual brilliance and career accomplishments, Harvey was a kind, gentle soul, a good friend, a man who loved his community and history, an environmentalist, and a wonderful conversationalist.
Fascinated by Joyce Kilmer, Harvey served as president of the Joyce Kilmer Centennial Commission in New Brunswick. One of his favorite poems, if not his all time favorite, was Kilmer's poem "Trees." If Highland Park is a green community, it is because of people like Harvey leading the way. In 2004, he organized a beautiful ceremony in which a descendant of the oak tree that inspired Kilmer was planted in front of the Highland Park High School. That baby tree has grown significantly over five years and stands as a gift from Harvey to our town, hopefully for generations to come.
I first met Harvey when he was appointed chair of the Highland Park Centennial Committee and asked me to attend meetings and volunteer for the project even though I was not a formal appointee. I was happy to do so and learned a lot about the history of our borough and the region in the process. Harvey had so many wonderful ideas about how to celebrate Highland Park's centennial in 2005, some of which came to fruition and were very successful.
Unfortunately, early in the borough's centennial year, the mayor dissolved the Centennial Committee abruptly without adopting the resolution required by law to dissolve such a body. The move was part of her war against a former councilwoman who opposed her redevelopment plan; that councilwoman was the liaison to the Centennial Committee and a friend of Harvey's. He and those who had spent a year and a half working on the borough's centennial suddenly found themselves completely excluded from the project as the mayor took complete control.
The irony is that she has sought designation for Highland Park as the state's first green community while here was a man who put trees at center stage of our centennial celebration only to unfairly have his position snatched out from under him for solely political reasons.
But his reputation was never damaged by this. Every year as my annual birthday party approached, people asked if the "Tree Man" was going to be there. That's the unofficial nickname that became attached to him--the "Tree Man."
And he was the Tree Man, especially in the way he literally put this special tree at the high school first. In 2005, at my suggestion, he ran for the 10th district Democratic Committeeman position along with a slate of candidates led by me and George Valenta running for Borough Council. A group of us campaigned door to door in the district, and Harvey inevitably would start talking about the tree and a first anniversary celebration of its planting a week after our primary. The rest of us had to keep reminding him that our main purpose was to campaign for the election!
At the time, the situation seemed quite funny, but in retrospect, it tells a lot about who Harvey was. Elections come and go; people enter and leave office, but the need to put the Earth first is always paramount. What is more representative of the Earth's and nature's endurance more than a tree?
Interestingly, Harvey ended up getting an even 100 votes for the Democratic Committee seat, and those on our team could not help notice the synchronicity of that--100 votes for the chair of the Centennial Committee in Highland Park's centennial year. Although he did not win the seat, Harvey's strong showing helped pave the way for a victory in winning back that seat by our team in 2007.
Harvey was always one of the first people to whom I would go seeking signatures for yet another petition to run for office, whether Council or Democratic Committee. Knowing I am a freelance writer, he would give me writing and editing jobs publicizing his research. That research was completely mathematical, centered on the Pythagorean theorem, and here I was, an English/journalism type, writing and revising something I barely understood. But that hardly mattered in the larger scheme of things because our real connection was that of friends helping one another.
Every year on the second Sunday in July, Harvey was the first person to show up for my backyard barbecue birthday party. While many people attended some years but not others due to vacation plans, he was there every year and became popular among the many guests we had over that time. When I took up astronomy as a hobby and began circulating petitions opposing the demotion of the planet Pluto, Harvey was one of the first to sign, and we had some provocative discussions of astronomy and cosmology.
It has not quite sunken in that next year, he is not going to show up in my backyard at exactly 3 PM on the second Sunday in July.
Harvey was also a beloved husband, father, and grandfather. He was a genuine "good guy." At his funeral, all who spoke emphasized the same qualities of his--kindness, generosity, gentleness. More than just being an intelligent and accomplished professional, he was a wonderful human being. And he will be terribly missed.
2009 has seen far too many losses both locally and on the world stage. Here in Highland Park, we are all diminished by the loss of Harvey Brudner.
There is a prayer that reads, "The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree. He shall grow mighty like the cedar in Lebanon." These words are Harvey. His legacy will live on in this borough and beyond as our own towering oak tree.
Farewell to an amazing citizen of Highland Park and more importantly, a friend.