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My father’s story

When he was eight years old, my dad taught himself to take apart watches and put them back together. He supported his mother by doing watch repairs at that age out of her little jewelry stand, and a few years later by delivering clothes for a Chinese laundry.

My father, Maurice Zeldman, as a young man.

As a laundry delivery boy, he earned no salary—he lived off tips. Emanuel Romano, a starving modern painter and customer of the laundry service, could not afford to tip Murray, but in lieu of cash, he offered to teach the boy how to paint. My father accepted the lessons and painted for most of the rest of his life. (Our home in Pittsburgh would one day be filled with Murray’s paintings. All would be lost in the flood that later destroyed his home.)

In his early years, Murray couldn’t read. He was probably autistic and dyslexic, but nobody back then knew from that. And a public school in Queens in the 1930s was certainly not going to have the resources to help a child with those issues. When beating him didn’t improve his skills, the school labeled him “sub-normal” and stuck him in Special Ed. He would likely have remained there and become a janitor, or a grifter like his father (my grandfather). But one remarkable public school teacher spotted Murray’s gifts. “This boy is brilliant,” he said. 

That changed everything.

(Everything except my grandfather, from whom my dad got nothing but violence and psychological cruelty. When Murray was one of two kids from his neighborhood to be accepted into Bronx Science—a rigorously academic public high school specializing in engineering, mathematics, and the sciences—his father said simply, “They’ve made a mistake.”)

Murray enlisted in the Navy at 17 to fight the Nazis, but they surrendered before he reached Germany. The navy then shipped him off to Japan, but the atomic bomb got there first.

On returning after the war, he attended CUNY on the G.I. Bill, studying electrical engineering. He eventually took his Masters—not bad for a slum kid from a poor family. He would go on to work in robotics, fluid hydraulics, and even early typesetting computers. He came the director of a Research & Development laboratory in Pittsburgh, and afterwards, spent 25 years working for himself as an author, consultant, and lecturer.

Below is his biography from twenty years ago. At the time, he was still vigorous, still flying all over the world as a consultant and lecturer. If you wish, you may skip down to the bottom, where I tell what became of him.

Maurice Zeldman, President

A world authority in the field of project management, Mr. Zeldman has consulted and led seminars for over 180 client organizations. His in-company and public seminars have been presented around the world. Advanced project managers use his special techniques to create realistic estimates, time frames, and implementations which enable the completion of these development projects on schedule and within budgets.

Before launching his EMZEE Associates consultancy, Mr. Zeldman served with Rockwell International as the Corporate Director of Technical Development for the Industrial & Marine Divisions. Responsible for all of the division’s new product and process development projects, he designed, built, and staffed an Engineering Development Center for the corporation.

Previously Mr. Zeldman served with Perkin Elmer in the development of an Atomic Absorption Spectrometer, and with American Machine & Foundry as Chief Engineer of the Versatran Robot business venture.

He is the author of “Keeping Technical Projects on Target” and “Robotics: What Every Engineer Should Know.” (Book links at Amazon.)

My mother died in 2000 after seven years with Alzheimer’s.

My father remarried the next year.

His second wife divorced him when he came down with dementia at age 91.

He was also experiencing seizures. While he was hospitalized for one of them, his house flooded, and everything he owned was destroyed.

My brother Pete found our father a clean, decent nursing home to live in.

There, his dementia progressed quickly.

The last time he saw me with my daughter, he mistook her for my wife and asked how we two had met.

He accused the nursing home staff of soiling his underwear while he slept.

He often sneaked out of the facility to buy scissors, which he smuggled back into the home. (Scissors were contraband because the home feared that their demented patients would use the blades to harm themselves. He had no practical use for the scissors, but was incensed at being told he could not have them.)

During the first year of the Covid pandemic, he contracted pneumonia.

He died at age 93 while in palliative care. He was alone.

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By L. Jeffrey Zeldman

“King of Web Standards”—Bloomberg Businessweek.

Author, Designer, Founder. Employer Brand at Automattic, Inc. Publisher, A List Apart & A Book Apart. Ava’s dad. Pete’s brother forever. He/him.

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