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The Story About a Story

The influence of a Rutgers alumnus on novelist Philip Roth. 

As I assemble an issue of Rutgers Magazine, the story behind a story bound for publication can be just as interesting—and sometimes even more so. The Spring 2013 issue of the magazine has a backstory that now spans three issues. It began last summer, when I was in the midst of producing the Fall 2012 issue and received this email:

I read with interest and admiration the contribution from P. Richard Wexler RC'30 in the spring edition of Rutgers Magazine. As Jonathan Swift pointed out, the downside of longevity is outliving so many dear loved ones and friends. I wonder, somewhat ruefully, if I am the last man standing from my class. I will celebrate my 105th birthday in July with around 50 family and friends, several much younger Rutgers alums among them.
Robert Lowenstein RC'28

I contacted two of Dr. Lowenstein’s three children, and we agreed it would be great to photograph him around the time of his birthday. Photographer Benoit Cortet visited him in his West Orange, New Jersey, home and came away with a memorable shot of Dr. Lowenstein, his arm raised in defiance, as if he were saying, “Yes, that’s right. I am alive!” A brief write-up summarizing his life—he was a teacher of Romance languages at Weequahic High School in Newark, where novelist Philip Roth had been a student of his in 1946—accompanied the photograph. The image appeared in the Fall 2012 issue and generated lots of interest. Evidently, Dr. Lowenstein was thrilled when he saw the picture.

Unfortunately, shortly after the magazine’s publication, his daughter Martha Rennie contacted me to say that her father had died. Even though I certainly didn’t know him, I felt a tug of loss. One person who evidently took it hard was Philip Roth, who had an enormous amount of admiration, and love, for the man to whom he became very close 20 years ago. He prepared a eulogy, which was read at Dr. Lowenstein’s memorial in April. I asked Ms. Rennie whether Mr. Roth might be interested in having his words appear in Rutgers Magazine in honor of her father. He was. His remembrance of Robert Lowenstein and his distinguished life is found in “Requiem for a Mentor.”

There are certainly other alumni leading distinguished lives. The university recently inducted five new members into the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni: Mark Angelson RC’72, NLAW’75, Carli Lloyd RC’06, Randal Pinkett ENG’94, Joseph Rigby SBC’79, and Judith Viorst NCAS’52 (“A Star-Studded Cast”). Like Dr. Lowenstein, they are indebted to Rutgers, in part, for their success. And that’s quite a backstory, too.

                                                                                                                                                — David W. Major