EULOGIES GIVEN AT THE FUNERAL OF RHODA FRIEDRICHS July 13, 2014
I promised my dad I would respect the time limit, so I’ll do my best. There’s obviously so much I could and
want to say about my mom, but we’d be here for a long time, so I’ll just share a few things.
She was so selfless. That’s one of the things I always think of first. She would purposefully buy inexpensive
clothes, so that we could have nicer things. She was never too busy, never too tired, and, ultimately, never
too ill to stay true to her outgoing, generous nature. All she ever asked in return was a backrub, a phone call,
maybe to watch an episode of CSI or Star Trek together, or a game of Chinese checkers, which she always
She was the smartest person I ever knew. I always felt like she knew everything, she had any answer, could
solve any problem, could name all the popes in order. I told her she should go on Jeopardy, she could win a
lot of money, but I think she was too shy.
My mom really liked to sing, but she always used to remind me that when I was younger I would say
“Mama, don’t sing!” I guess that’s true, but I did always love it when she sang “You Are My Sunshine.” I’d
love her to sing that to me one more time.
She loved to laugh, I loved to make her laugh. I knew I could always make her laugh at the dinner table by
telling “Yo Mama” jokes. “G”-rated Yo Mama jokes, of course.
Even in these last few weeks when she had very little physical strength, every time I spoke to her on the
phone, she answered with the exact same exuberance that she did every single time I talked to her on the
phone. “OH JEREMSY, HELLO, HELLO! SO GREAT TO HEAR FROM YOU!” I don’t think she ever
answered the phone differently, whether I was 10 minutes away or 3000 miles away.
And though it pains me so deeply that I’ve been so far away, that all three of us have been, these last few
years, and that I was unable to make it home in time to say goodbye, she had the greatest partner and best
support I could have ever wished for her, the support of my Dad, the best man I’ve ever known. Dad, Mom,
it always bugged me growing up when I had an argument with one of you and I would go complain to the
other, that you would take the other one’s side. I know you were always on my side too, but I learned to
greatly appreciate the respect you always had for each other. I just think that was such a valuable, important
part of your 44 year marriage.
Mom, I love you, I’ll always love you. I see so much of you in Dad, Jonathan, Ellen and your grandchildren,
and that is my greatest comfort.
It was taken as a given in my family that my mom knew everything. I can’t think of a time when I asked my
mom a question about some historical event and she said the words “I don’t know.” She was an
encyclopedia. When I had a history essay to work on, no matter what the subject, I would sometimes sit
down with my mom instead of opening up a book. One of my favourite examples of her staggering
knowledge was when I went with her to see the Sherlock Holmes movie in the theatre and I asked her
afterward if there were any historical inaccuracies. She said, “Well, the movie is set in the 1890s but the
women’s dresses were really more from the 1880s…”
Her intellect was a big part of who she was, of course, but in my mind she had another quality which was
even more important, and that was her warmth. She had this genuine, energetic warmth that radiated out,
and I especially noticed it whenever my friends stopped by. She loved my friends and loved their company.
It was tangible. My mom and dad created the warmest, most comfortable living room you could imagine -
the perfect setting for rich conversation. When I had friends over in the living room I would often just sit
back and quietly observe the conversations they had, not wanting to intrude on this special time they were
spending with my mom. Everyone who left that space always felt just a little uplifted. And I always felt like
a proud son.
And of course her warmth was directed most of all to her children. She would beam when I shared with her
one of my accomplishments, she would yell out my name excitedly when I called on the phone. But on the
few occasions in which I was struggling or had sad news to share, her emotions were just as passionate. It
was hard to tell her upsetting personal news because the look of sadness on her face was almost too hard to
bear. And the only time I ever had any sort of mother-son problem happened to be in one short period of
my life. I was 19, first year of university, living at home after a year abroad, and I wasn’t having a good
year. My mom of course could sense it and every time I walked by she would stroke my arm or stop me
mid-walk and lunge toward me with a hug. It was too much affection that particular year—but how lucky I
am that the only issue I ever had with my mom revolved around her caring about me. And now I would love
to have another one of those hugs.
I last saw my mom three weeks ago in New York and that will be my last memory of her. Part of me wishes
I made it back in time to be with her in the last week but there are two things that are giving me some
comfort right now. One is knowing how thrilled my mom was to hear about Ellen and Josh’s engagement.
And the other is knowing that my dad was in the hospital room, holding her in his arms and saying I love you
when she died.
I wish I could have said “I love you” one last time.
A few days before my mom died, I wrote my family an email. In it I said, "Sometimes it pains me to know
we all recall some bumpy teenage years so much more than we look at our decades of wonderful family life.”
And maybe I have rose-colored childhood glasses, but I think we had it pretty good. Listening to Weird Al in
the living room, watching WWF wrestling with Mom and Jonathan in Princeton (Hulk Hogan and Ricky the
Steamboat Dragon!), going to the hospital with Dad and Jonathan when Jeremy was born, Dad's Germany
grown-down stories, Mom's beet
birthday cakes (tasted just like chocolate). I think about how my childhood discomfort with Shabbat dinners
shifted by high school to make those dinners one of my favorite things. And then I am thinking about the
countless regular old dinners where, Mom and Dad, you would make some obscure (at least to us) reference
to a random historical event and Jonathan and Jeremy and I would look at each other blankly - just who was
this Queen of Denmark and why was 1316 such a debatable year in her reign?
But that was my mom. She was an academic, who could never quite understand the fact that her children
did not always excel in the same way. This was something she blamed not on our laziness or simple lack of
ability, but rather on having us educated in Vancouver, not New
York. And while she was always the go-to person for any factoid, the proofreader of all my writing, no
matter how dull, or risqué or self-indulgent, the grammarian who would debate the need for the past participle
in English versus Russian or French with my brother Jeremy, that wasn't all she was. My mom also loved
CSI, and campy 1950s era Robin Hoods. She tried every strange flavor of ice cream, and devoured Harry
Potter and Star Trek. She was passionate about
Vancouver's beaches, could tell you the best way to cook fish without having your house smell like one (put
stale bread in the dish), was up on the most recent debate over dinosaur categorizations (oh no, no one has
called the Basutodon part of the theropod family since 1997!), and could explain in a snap why the play-
dough she made with her grandchildren always turned out better than did my attempts (it's the alum!).
My mom was an only child born to what were then called older parents (but today would be called me and all
my friends), Holocaust refugees who themselves had lost so much. I used to find her stories so hard to wrap
my mind around. The burden of being an only child seemed so heavy. Losing her father as a teenager, so
unimaginable. The guilt over leaving her widowed mother and moving to Vancouver (a place she had thought
she would not stay more than five years, yet came to stay in near 40 with no plans to leave). Then losing that
mother first to a debilitating stroke, and then seven years later losing her altogether. And when my own
tragedy struck and my partner Joe died, she was there in a flash, telling me that I could do or say anything
and not to worry about her since she was "unoffendable." And I knew it to be true.
I loved that my mom had a life beyond her children and even at a young age appreciated the fact that she
worked outside the house. How else would I have gotten away with so much as a kid?
But beyond that, she was an amazing model for me. A parent who was so incredibly involved and devoted, a
woman with a busy career, a person with so many passions and interests, a partner to my father for 44 years,
and for the last 8 years the kind of grandparent every child hopes for. As my kids said the other night of a
game my mother first invented for my brothers and me, "Now who will play bird’s nest with us?"
My mom's death is going to leave empty bird’s nest and a hole in all our hearts. We will miss her very much.
GAIL EDWARDS (Rhoda’s colleague and friend at Douglas College)
Scholar, teacher, colleague, mentor, friend….
Rhoda was a gifted scholar, whose intellectual curiosity, wit, and clarity of thought were not only the
foundation of her scholarship but integral to who she was as a person. The richness and depth of her
knowledge of medieval social and political history, and her interest in collective biography, allowed her to
trace the complexities of marriage patterns and property ownership among younger sons and elite women,
weaving together the ways that gendered social expectations, power and influence intersected with economic,
political, familial, religious and theological considerations.
Her book reviews were incisive, comprehensive and charitable, focusing the reader’s attention on the merits
of the book under review rather than on her own erudition. Her own scholarly work was mindful of the
reader’s pleasure in the text and equally mindful of the importance of knowledge creation. The elegance of
her prose was matched by the rigor of her research. She contributed to the discipline by serving on the board
of several scholarly societies, by sharing her knowledge freely and generously with other scholars, and by
generously acknowledging the scholarship of others.
Rhoda also shared her historical knowledge with the broader community. Her essay “L’Dor Va Dor: From
Generation to Generation,” part of the Faces of Loss website produced by the Vancouver Holocaust
Education Centre, reminds us that the stories of past generations, transmitted as part of a family’s history,
help to shape the values of the generations to follow. Her own family’s experience of loss, destruction,
privation and fear led her to the understanding that, in her words, “A completed story always carries
foreshadowings of its conclusion.” The power of narrative to shape historical understanding was central, I
think, to her work as a public historian.
As a teacher, she encouraged her students to approach the study of history with the same intellectual
engagement that she brought to her own scholarly research. She joined the History department at Douglas
College in 1989, and throughout her career demonstrated her commitment to the value of a liberal arts
undergraduate education. She respected the intelligence of her students and encouraged them to excel, while
understanding that many struggle to balance their educational aspirations with jobs and family commitments.
Students in turn found her knowledgeable, passionate, enthusiastic, helpful, and fair. She cared about
students, and cared about their success.
She was a valued, respected and supportive colleague, whose strong ethical core, resilience, problem solving
skills, humor and utter reliability shaped her work on departmental, faculty and college-wide committees, and
contributed to the success of her two terms as Chair of the History department.
She was an excellent mentor and role model, generously sharing her time and experience with new faculty
and colleagues moving into new roles. The learning curve for a new departmental Chair is fairly steep, and I
cannot count the number of times she listened to my concerns before offering constructive solutions based on
her own experience, common sense, and understanding of the culture of the college. She provided practical
and thoughtful support for departmental initiatives, and her suggestions for ways to move forward were
always sound and reliable, because they were based in both head and heart.
Rhoda’s delight in her children and her grandchildren and her admiration and love for Chris as a husband,
father, and scholar were evident to all her colleagues, as was Chris’s deep love for Rhoda and his respect and
support for her teaching and scholarship. In recent times of illness and personal tragedy, her strength, courage
and dignity were unshakeable.
Rhoda continually affirmed the importance of her colleagues as individuals with their own complex lives. She
drew on her own understanding of the delicate balancing of research and scholarly engagement, family needs,
and the expectations of the academy to provide wise and empathetic counsel to others negotiating a balance
between work and life. She never failed to ask about our research, our experiences in the classroom, our
spouses and partners, our children, our aging parents. She and Chris welcomed us into their home for
departmental gatherings, and came to our houses with equal enthusiasm, bearing delicious potluck
contributions. She celebrated our achievements, helping to organize a surprise book launch to mark the
publication of a colleague’s first book. We knew that in an emergency, we could count on her.
And finally, Rhoda was an excellent friend. She enriched our lives in countless ways, and was, in the words
of one colleague, “an all-around decent person.” We will miss her dearly, but we know that her life and work
will be an inspiration and blessing for us in years to come.
Chris asked that one of Rhoda’s “beach lady friends” - Lucy, Iris and me - speak on behalf of Rhoda’s many
friends - friends, who, along with her family, are grieving today. I am both honored and humbled to share our
thoughts and memories of Rhoda.
Of course, we remember her keen intellect and depth of knowledge. She earned our respect for her
intelligence without being intimidating or arrogant. Generous as she was in all ways, she was generous with
her knowledge. Before we had Google, we had Rhoda. Who were the Kings of England, their wives, their
mistresses? Ask Rhoda. But it wasn’t just the bare facts that we turned to her for - it was Rhoda’s insights
and perspectives on past and current realities that we valued.
Rhoda was not a dry, humorless academic - and we loved having fun with her. On New Year’s Eve we often
broke into teams to play a game that Chris invented - usually a word game. Your only chance of winning was
to be on Rhoda’s team.
We got to know Rhoda through our children, who became friends at Habonim summer camp. Together we
experienced the pleasures and traumas of raising adolescents. The children stayed together in the Habonim
movement, and we traded stories of their adventures, misadventures, and progress.
Rhoda taught by example - how to let our children mature into independent adults, how to respect the
decisions they made and accept the paths their lives followed. Our children responded to Rhoda’s genuine
interest in them. Adults now, they saw Rhoda not just as their mother’s friend or their friend’s mother, but as
With great delight we welcomed grandchildren together. We heard Rhoda’s pride and pleasure as she
recounted the exploits of Clementine and Rocco in Brooklyn and showed off their latest pictures.
Just three weeks ago, Rhoda, beaming, told me that Ellen had called to say that Josh’s parents were in
Brooklyn to meet the children for the first time, and was happy to report that the meeting went very well.
In Vancouver that day there was sunshine one minute - pouring rain the next. Rhoda, typically looking on the
bright side, said that in this sort of weather we should see a rainbow. So when I spotted a rainbow later that
day I called her immediately. Rhoda had her own special rainbow that very evening. She had just sent me an
email thrilled to announce Ellen’s engagement to Josh.
But why does Chris call us Rhoda’s “beach lady friends”? A few of you joined us occasionally and know
what he’s talking about - but others might be puzzled. Let me explain first of all that Rhoda was the
ringleader of this cabal.
It was Rhoda who checked the tide table to determine when the tide would be high. We gathered at Locarno
beach. The first to arrive chose the log for our encampment. We spread our beach towels, slapped on our
floppy hats, plunked ourselves down in the sand, and talked and talked. Rhoda told us about her childhood in
New York and her summers on the beach in Long Island. We shared dietary advice and health tips and
resolved international conflicts. We kvetched and we kvelled about children and grandchildren.
Some of us would have been happy enough just to sit and gab. But that’s not what Rhoda came to the beach
to do. She would break away from our lively discussions and wade into the water, take a few tentative steps
to test the ocean temperature, then dive under and swim off.
Rhoda loved to swim in the sea. She headed to Locarno whenever warm weather beckoned - sometimes
when it wasn’t even all that warm. Her energy and enthusiasm inspired us. Slowly we waded in behind her
and braved a few strokes. But Rhoda really swam - she was still out in the water long after the rest of us
were back on the sand drying off.
Rhoda’s departure was so sudden. We don’t really believe that she’s not still with us. We hear a radio
documentary about the First World War and want to call Rhoda to get her perspective. Friday night we want
to hear her beautiful voice chanting the blessings on the Shabbat candles. And especially on a hot sunny day
like today we expect her to call and let us know when the tide will be up.
On Wednesday, July 16, a special shiva service was organized by friends of Ellen, Jonathan and Jeremy.
Noam Dolgin led the service and made the following remarks before opening the floor to other remarks by
those who attended.
Apologies, I didn’t want to write a eulogy, just say a few words, but I couldn’t help myself.
It’s been said before, but you can’t talk about Rhoda without mentioning that she’s the smartest person any
of us have ever met. But what sets her apart is not necessarily her knowledge, but her humility. It took time
to realize that Rhoda knew everything, because she didn’t just come out and tell you. Only after a number of
conversations on a wide range of topics did you come to realize she really did know something on every
topic, except modern competitive sports - ancient Olympics yes, Canucks no. And while that knowledge was
frustrating when it came to game playing, I came to rely on it when it came to research assignments. Though
Rhoda was a true teacher, she would never give me the answers, she would happily begin to answer my
questions, then point me in the direction of the World Book Encyclopedia. At the time, I hated this - if she
knew the information, why couldn’t she just tell me? Can’t I cite Rhoda as a source?
The Friedrichs home was always a warm and welcoming place for me and presumably for all of us. When I
picture their home I see myself as a kid crossing the street to Chris and Rhoda’s after school after ransacking
my kitchen hoping for a better snack than carrots and heading straight for the kitchen where Rhoda was
prepping dinner and, more importantly, where there were cookies in the cabinet she was always happy to
bring down for me. Thank goodness for Rhoda or I might have been a skinny child.
Sitting in their back yard this week, I’ve been finding myself expecting Rhoda to emerge from the kitchen at
any second, with tea, grapes and Molson Canadian (or Kokanee). European royalty and cheap beer - that
was the enigma that was Rhoda.
In addition to giving me my closest friends, Chris and Rhoda have always been the rock in my parents’ lives.
As my family has gone through challenges and tragedies over the years, we’ve always been able to count on
Chris and Rhoda for support. Rhoda was an amazing friend to my mother in her last few months and days
and for that I will always be grateful.
Fortunately, Rhoda’s influence lives on in her children. I can remember numerous times when as kids they
swore they’d never be like their parents. Fortunately this is one place where you guys failed and for that I
am grateful. There is a lot of Rhoda in each of you, her strength, her kindness, her intelligence, her caring
nature and of course her geekiness.
Rhoda was a great mother, a great neighbor and friend. She and Chris created a home that was a safe haven
and nurturing, not only for their own kids, but for their very large network of friends. On behalf of all of us
who are better people now because of her: To Rhoda, thank you, we’ll miss you and l’chaim!
|This page is in memory of Rhoda Friedrichs May 18, 1946 - July 9, 2014