Arlene Schnitzer: Role model, wife, mom, aunt, friend
Jordan Schnitzer's mother, Arlene Schnitzer, was at their beach house in Gearhart last week and became unwell with stomach pains.
He went to see her on Wednesday and when she was not getting better, brought her home on Friday. An MRI revealed she had diverticulosis and they opted against surgery because new rules around the novel coronavirus meant she would not have been allowed visitors in the hospital. So, she stayed at home in her own bed. Antibiotics did not work.
"At 2 o'clock (on Saturday afternoon) I said, 'Let's just let her rest a bit,'" Jordan Schnitzer said. "I was there holding her hand and stroking her hair, and her breathing was a little bit different. And then at 2:10 p.m., she just stopped breathing and the doctor marked down that at 2:12 p.m. she passed away.
"I thought she'd live another week or week or 10 days, but I sensed in the last two or three minutes an increase in her energy and strength that just said, 'I'm tired of all these tests, I'm done with this.'"
Arlene had told her nurse on Tuesday, March 31, that she wanted to die on April 1 or 2 so she could join her husband Harold. She died Saturday, April 4.
The funeral will be Friday, April 10. It will be an immediate family affair to comply with social distancing rules, with a video connection for extended and remote family.
"There'll be a public gathering months from now when all this coronavirus is behind us," Jordan said.
Arlene Schnitzer transferred her art collection, which was strong on Northwest art, to the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation in 2018, where it was merged with Jordan's 16,000 item collection. The latter is renowned and is in constant rotation, on loan to different museums.
For the last three years, Jordan has been chair of the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Care Foundation, which was established in 1998. He has been making key decisions about its disbursements with his mother's direction. He said 100% of her estate, aside from some gifts to relatives, will go to the foundation.
"It'll take some time to go through all the mechanics of the estate, but the estate will flow to the Care Foundation. It will get much bigger because her personal properties and those of my late father that were in trust all flow into the foundation. I get nothing financial from this," Jordan said.
Asked about her legacy, Jordan said, "I think if you were to have asked her what her greatest legacy was, she would have said, 'My son.' Because she would say, 'We're so lucky that we have a child that seemed to end up having so much in the same interests we did in the arts and culture and in civic contribution and real estate.' If you asked me down the road, my greatest legacy will be my four children. What in our lives is more important than our children? I love building up the business (Harsch Investments) and I love the art. But as my late father used to always say, you'll never see a U-Haul following a hearse."
Meaning you can't take material possessions with you when you die.
"I thought about that yesterday when they took the body away at 4 o'clock," Jordan added. "While we're surrounded by lots of material things, the most important thing is the legacy of your children, your family, your nieces, nephews, your friends. She had a fabulous marriage, just short of 63 years. She was an incredible mother, not perfect by any means, still an incredible mother. She was a fabulous aunt to 22 nieces and nephews, not just sending a birthday card, she got very involved in all their life. She helped with divorces or redoing a house or moving or life decisions or issues or parents or whatever. She was idolized by most all of them."
Jordan says he received around 250 text messages from her friends and his own friends within 48 hours of his mother's passing.
One such group of people were some younger women she met when working with the Women's Health Center. She helped them understand mentoring and raising money, and was in turn, energized by them. Then, in 1980, when Harold and Arlene joined the Portland Golf Club, she met a group of women who would play golf, drink, smoke and travel to Palm Springs and San Francisco together. They called themselves the C-Cups.
"So, from a girlfriend standpoint, she has a number of lady friends. And that's another mark of what she was like as a person," Jordan said. "And, all those ladies have called me in the last couple days and reminisced about the wonderful times they had together, how they all let their hair down and talked about everything and so on."
Jordan recalls how his mother stopped her station wagon in downtown Portland 30 years ago to offer a ride to a total stranger, a young woman with two small kids who were getting drenched in a downpour. They became friends.
"There are dozens, if not hundreds, of stories like that — people she just met and somehow came in their lives and played a wonderful role," Jordan said. "So, aside from the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall and all the big-name things, I think her greatest legacy was as a wife, a mother and a friend."
His mother's passing at this particular time, in what feels like peak danger from the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, highlights her values.
"It tells us what we see around us is often fleeting. But your family, your friends, there's nothing more important," Jordan said. "That's what you need to get through tough times."
Jordan intends to organize a memorial "in a few months" after the virus is under control. It will probably be a celebration of Arlene's life at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, followed by a reception at the Portland Art Museum.
Said Jordan: "These people who have texted me, they've all talked about what a role model she was for them. We want to do something public, not to aggrandize her — she had plenty of faults and was the first to admit it — but to admire the traits she had that we can all learn from, about giving back and making a difference. That'd be a good time to have everyone come together, having gone through this virus. Moving back to normal life with maybe a greater appreciation for our health and our friends."
Jordan had one last thought about his late mother:
"At the beach on Wednesday, when she wasn't doing too well, I said 'Mom, my gosh, the world's in crisis right now. We need to work hard to get us through this virus and the business issues that it's causing. I need you. I need your support and your love now. You can't die in 2020! But frankly, 2021 is wide open. You can pick any month you want.' And she laughed. 'Oh, Jordan, come on.'"
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