Dad was born in Manhattan on September 28, 1910, to Max and Dora Rothman. Max was a house painter and decorator, a craftsman; and from him my father may very well have inherited his own love of the brush. Dad grew up in Brooklyn and bus-boyed his way through New York University, from which he graduated as an accounting major.
He was working for the government when World II broke out. In the Army he was an accounting sergeant at Fort Ord, California, but spent as much leave as possible with his aging parents back East. Along the way he picked up a Jewish wife in the most unlikely place of Kansas City, where his troop train had stopped and where my mother was working at a Jewish community center. Harry Rothman and Hortense Hart played ping-pong, and during more than half a century of marriage, neither would agree on who had won the first game. I even noted this at their 40th wedding anniversary. Only after Dad’s death did my mother finally fess up: he had won.
I was born in ’47, and Dorothy arrived three years later. Tired as he was after work for the government, Dad was more than a Quality Time father to my sister and me. He took me fishing and shared his camera. Dad also let me peck away on his World War II-era typewriter, and he bought me the New York Times so that at Mount Vernon High School I could win the Time Magazine current events quiz in my history class. He encouraged me to write even if he would have preferred that I punch the federal meal ticket. Two days before his 86-year-old heart finally gave out on January 28, 1997, he was still checking up on me with Question One, “What are you working on?”
When I searched through the library he passed on, I found amid the classics a recent edition of a handbook for writers. He knew he might be dying soon, and I’d like to think that the book was one last gift to encourage me.
In retirement Dad himself could finally become an artist. He belonged to the Northern Virginia Art League as well as the Washington chapter of the National Artist Equity Association. My father painted acrylic on canvas and Oriental rice paper and collages on canvas. He placed dozens of works in public collections at institutions ranging from the Smithsonian to the Evansville (Indiana) Museum of Arts and Science. An up-and-coming TV personality named Maury Povich interviewed him on WTTG. In character, as the son of Orthodox-Jewish immigrants, Dad favored religious and patriotic themes. Some of his work–for example, the menorah made with stained glass from the windows of an old temple–you can see here at Beth El Hebrew Congregation. Even after severe brain damage from strokes he was reading his prayers daily.
Well into his early 80s he could still take his walks, a habit he passed on to me–as part of the wisdom from his hellfire-and-brimstone cardiac specialist who helped him live four decades after his first heart attack. He could gaze out his window at his beloved magnolia tree. And always, always, Mom was there for him.
If Dad were still alive, the two of them would be helping me celebrate my 50th birthday today, February 2. Imagine how I felt after his death when I saw a birthday card signed with both names.
Wherever my father is now, I just hope he can spend all his time at the easel. Hey, Dad, what are you working on?–David Rothman
Related: Washington Post obituary (scroll down).