BANGOR - Al Bernstein, 87, passed away on June 8th. He was born in Bangor on June 11, 1927, the son of Charles J. and Frances Cohen Bernstein.
"The art of living is the art of giving." Those were his favorite words expressed from a lifetime fascination with philosophy, religion, and public discourse and translated into practical advice in his writings and in his youngest son Harley's book "Happiness on Seven Dollars a Week."
Al grew up in Bangor as one of six siblings. He graduated from Bangor High School and served in the US Army in Germany, where he was assigned to a displaced persons camp working with concentration camp survivors. This powerful, emotional first experience away from home, made more so because he was a young Jewish man, profoundly shaped the direction of his life and commitment to ideas.
He returned from Germany and graduated from Boston University's School of Public Relations. In between he met a young woman from Montreal, Rhoda Sondon, and after a six-month courtship they were married and remained together until her death in October of 2000, just two months shy of their 50th wedding anniversary.
Al was a salesman for some 40 years, having worked at Viner Music, Allan Lewis Men's Clothing, Broadway Furniture, Marden's, among others. He knew his products and customers. And he had the banter down pat, awarding nicknames to co-workers and friends based on something associational. There are many in the Bangor area who still remember their specially assigned monikers.
Al spent as much as five hours a day with pen in hand, refining and shaping his thoughts. He loved to counsel young people on their relationships and their life directions, and many have benefitted from his time and wisdom. Rick, the second of his three sons said, "He was good at making people feel good. Above all, he was a good listener, and that made his ultimate advice all the more valued."
Al's ideas were progressive and informed by a strong ethical core. He was an active supporter of the Atlantic Union concept following WWII and involved in the Anti-Defamation League. His oldest son, Bud, remembers being with him on a winter day in 1965 in a Civil Rights March that ended at the Pierce Memorial next to the Bangor Public Library, "I was only ten at the time, but it's not something you forget. My father wanted to make a difference." Al was one of several hundred gathered there to honor Reverend Reeb, a Boston minister slain at the second march on Selma. He joined other speakers at this ecumenical service, his words representing Bangor's Jewish community.
In addition to his sons Bud, Rick, and Harley, Al is survived by son-in-law Mark Mayer (Portland); daughters-in-law Heather Hallsey-Bernstein (Bangor) and Kari Beskow Bernstein (Milwaukee, Wisconsin); grandchildren Joshua, Adam, and Marisa; brother-in-law Warren Sondon (Montreal); nieces Wendy Sondon and Jodi Sondon (both from Toronto); three brothers - twin brother Bob (Bennington, Vermont), Steven (Belfast, Maine), and Seldon (Surry, Maine); and many nephews, nieces, cousins, and friends.
Al expressed his gratitude and fondness to Miki MacDonald, FNP, Dr. Betsy Weiss, and Dr. Sally Kirkpatrick, plus the wonderful caregivers at the Phillips-Strickland House and the Maine Veterans' Home.
Friends may gather with the family during visiting hours on Tuesday, June 9th from 5PM to 7PM at the Family Reception Center of Brookings-Smith, 163 Center Street in Bangor. The funeral will follow in Montreal later in the week at a private family service.
Anyone so wishing may make a charitable donation to the Phillips-Strickland House, www.pshouse.org