Remembering Ira Sandperl—mentor to Joan Baez and a big influence in my life.

Lincoln–last portrait   WikiCmns

When I first met Ira in Palo Alto, in the fifties, he had a fondness for Brooks Brothers clothes, Black Russian cocktails, and beautiful art—especially Tolstoy’s writings. Not surprising for the son of a wealthy St. Louis surgeon!

Ira had come west to study at Stanford over a decade earlier and had lived a playboy’s life the first couple of years until, as he said, “he left school to continue his education.” At one point Ira saw a about Gandhi in a bookstore window, and from then on, Ira tried to live an ascetic, nonviolent life. He succeeded for the most part, owning books but very few other worldly possessions. Ira  often said with a grin and a snort, “Gandhi, the rat! He ruined my life.”

My good friend Jean Herz Felger remembers Ira well.”He  lived right around the corner from me, on Dartmouth St. next to the tennis in the College Terrace neighborhood. I would always see him riding his bike to Kepler’s Bookstore, where he held court. Whenever I saw him, he wore open sandals. I thought he resembled Abe Lincoln.”

I remember Ira most vividly from my visits to the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence that he and Joan Baez ran in Carmel in the sixties. During the seminars in an old one-room schoolhouse, Ira wore Levis and a blue Oxford-cloth shirt rather than his usual beard, suit and tie. Like Joan, he sat on the floor with the rest of us participants, his eyes often twinkling with mischief despite the seriousness of our discussions about nonviolence, war and nuclear annihilation.

Ira’s recent death is a great loss to those of us lucky enough to have known him . . . and to his many students and others affected by his keen intelligence, playful wit, and ability to articulate the lessons of history. He will be sorely missed.

Cleft Heart, which chronicles some of Ira’s doings in the fifties and sixties, is due out this fall.

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