I last saw Richard Stone a"h over dinner in early March. We followed his prescribed formula: I picked the restaurant; he paid. And as always, the conversation flowed, albeit in many directions.
Richard was in the process of buying a large new apartment, and was very excited about the prospect of a Jerusalem residence in which to host children and grandchildren. Though he had already had one minor stroke, his mother had lived to past 100 with her full faculties, and Richard needed at least that much time to fulfill all his plans.
From the apartment, we were soon on to a paper that Richard had written for Professor Isadore Twersky at Harvard nearly 60 years ago, on the rent rolls of pre-expulsion English Jewry. One had to be on one's toes to keep up with Richard.
After that dinner, I sent Richard an email in which I told him that of all his qualities, the one that stood out the most in my mind was his capacity for friendship. He was constantly making new friends without shedding old ones, all the way back to his youth in New Orleans. The family of a non-Jewish classmate from Harvard Law School pushed back their father's funeral a day when they realized that Richard would not be able to attend because of Shabbos. And when Richard spoke of those in his wide circle, it was almost always with admiration — something very rare for a person of his immense talents. Rav Zevulun Schwartzman described Richard at the levayah in Israel as embodying what Chazal meant by a chaver tov.
Richard liked my compliment. (I learned this week from a much longer-standing member of Richard's circle that at his son Mikey's bris, he had wished his son "the brains of his mother and his father's ability to gather a large circle of deep friendships.") But he wondered whether he had perhaps spent too much of his life fostering those friendships at the expense of not achieving as much as he should have.
That concern is remarkable given what he did achieve both in the secular realm and as a Jewish leader. He joined the Solicitor General's office soon after graduating law school, where he would argue eight or nine cases before the Supreme Court. From there he went on to teach at Columbia Law School for four decades. At the same time, he pursued a career as a successful venture capitalist, with a heavy emphasis on Israeli startups.
Richard served as an officer of the OU for more than a decade, and as head of its Institute for Public Affairs, in which capacity he played a major role the opening of the OU's Washington office. He was president of the National Conference Serving Eurasian Jewry (NCSEJ), and eventually chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, during which term he worked hand-in-hand with Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive director of the Conference. The two men continued that partnership even after Richard's term as chairman had ended.
But perhaps no title did he wear more proudly or for longer than that of president of Novardok Yeshivah, headed by his close friend Rav Mordechai Joffen.
Richard was an enthusiast of the first degree. Whenever I heard of a project that excited me, he was almost invariably the first person I called. (He knew more people of means than I do. His final favor for me was to set up a meeting with a major Jewish philanthropist to discuss one of my pet projects.) That is how he came to be the first chairman of the Haredi Institute for Public Affairs, founded by Mishpacha publisher Eli Paley.
Richard's religious journey was a fascinating one — and one he delighted in telling. When he was accepted to Harvard, he told his European-born grandmother, who lived in Bogalusa, Louisiana, only that he was going to school in Boston, assuming that she had never heard of Harvard. But it turned out that she had a cousin who was one of Harvard's most learned and famous professors, the Slabodka-trained medievalist Harry Austryn Wolfson.
Wolfson, in turn, introduced him to Professor Isadore Twersky, with whom Richard soon became enamored. (Professor Twersky was also the Tolna Rebbe of Boston.) By the time he graduated Harvard in three years in 1963, Richard's only goal was to come to Israel to study in yeshivah. It would be the first of a number of such breaks in his career.
Richard was formidably articulate as both a speaker and writer. Yet his greatest work may be yet to come. He spoke often of working on his memoirs, and should those be close to completion, they would constitute a masterpiece, for Richard was a raconteur nonpareil. Not only would those memoirs provide portraits of hundreds of fascinating personalities, but also a keen observer's view of many historical events at which he had a ringside seat.
Let us hope. Meanwhile, my wife and I, like the more that 1,000 mourners who overflowed the West Side Institutional Synagogue to pay their final respects, are left with many good memories and a hole in our hearts.