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Leon Weiner, a "guten neshama" or "good soul," peacefully passed away September 12. He was 89 and after a life of excellent health he had suffered from Parkinson's disease.
A native Houstonian, World War II veteran, civic and philanthropic leader and man of deep faith, Leon felt his greatest accomplishments were his 60-year marriage to the love of his life, Sandra, and their four children, 14 grandchildren and six great grandchildren.
His family and Leon's scores of friends will remember his brilliant mind, gentle nature, clever humor and the extra care he took to avoid anger and confrontation. He was a man of tremendous principles, honesty and unwavering integrity.
He was born August 1, 1924 at 2117 Gantry Street in Houston to Esther (Cinman) Weiner and Isidore Weiner who immigrated to the United States from Lithuania. Leon revered his parents. It was his great privilege to care for them as they aged and he visited them each day.
Isidore started Weiner's Department Stores in 1926 and it became a Houston institution. Leon eventually joined the business, which sold clothing, and managed it with his younger brother, Sol, for more than 45 years. Leon was in charge of operations. He had a special interest in the early use of computer analysis of the business and inventory control. Weiner's grew to more than 150 stores in several states. Leon was most proud of the store's early policies of integration that welcomed all Houstonians. His father instilled in Leon the message that all people are created equally in G-d's image.
Leon was raised in a Zionist home with his siblings Abe, Ann and Sol. As a child, he was a voracious reader and an exceptional student from Lamar Elementary School through his years at San Jacinto High School. The sacrifices of his oldest siblings, Abe and Ann, allowed Leon to go to Texas A&M University at age 16. When he graduated two years later, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in WWII as a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers in New Guinea. When he returned home, he earned a master's degree in business administration from Stanford University.
Leon met the love of his life, Sandra Goldfine of Duluth MN on a blind date arranged by Irma Frankel, the mother of Sandra's college roommate. After a whirlwind courtship that included all the sights of New York City, they were married in August 1953. Leon was close to Sandra's mother, Fannie (Jack) Benton, and her brothers, Erwin (Beverly) Goldfine and Monnie (Lillian) Goldfine and her many aunts and uncles.
Leon counted the days of his life from the day he met Sandra, and often said, "I made the living and she made the living worthwhile." His philosophy of shalom bayit (peace in the home) included the frequent use of the term, "Yes, dear." He encouraged his wife to dream and supported her many accomplishments. He cherished his recitation of "Aishet Chayil," a "Woman of Valor," at their Friday night Shabbat table. Theirs was a marriage of mutual support, good humor and understanding based on a desire to raise a Jewish family, to be builders of the Jewish community of Houston and supporters of Israel where they frequently travelled to visit Leon's many cousins. Sandra and Leon literally counted their many blessings and felt a tremendous responsibility to use those blessings to help others. Their extraordinary relationship was based on a rare, mature love and respect.
Leon is survived by Sandra and their four children, Bayle (Richard) Drubel of Hanover, NH, Rachel (Robert) Davis of Houston, Andy Weiner of Houston and Renee (Michael) Lafair of Austin. Leon considered, his 14 grandchildren his crown jewels: Anna, Julia, Jonny and Miriam Drubel; Noah (Hilary) Davis, Hannah (Aaron) Weisman; Jacob (Ahuva) Davis, Joey Davis; David Warren, Daniel and Michael Weiner; Rebecca, Louis and Joshua Lafair. He marveled at his six precious great grandchildren: Jordan, Jack, Nesanel, Refael, Tzivia and Tehilla.
He was very close to his siblings: Abe (Zelda) Weiner, Ann (Bernard) Bell and Sol (Annette) Weiner, and to the children of Evelyn Weiner, Charlie (Celia and later Arlene) Gaitz, and Tita ( Babe) Kamin.
To his many nephews and nieces, Leon was a delightful uncle who told them long, complicated and corny jokes and showed them equally long, complicated card tricks. One niece wrote a book about Uncle Leon's special characteristics and many interests. A master chess player who also excelled at backgammon, his interests ranged from learning about nanotechnology to spiritual matters. He frequently copied articles to mail to friends and bought cooking tools for those who admired his steel cut oatmeal or his other recipes. He was a valued member of a men's luncheon group that discussed the broadest of subjects each month.
Leon served as president of Congregation Brith Shalom, where he and Sandra were founding members. There he chanted the Haftorah "Yonah: ("Jonah") each year on Yom Kippur. He served as president of Jewish Family Service (1981-82) and was committed to helping immigrants from the former Soviet Union find employment. He felt the highest form of charity is helping someone find a job. The new immigrants who came through JFS knew that if they needed a cosigner on a loan, they should visit Leon Weiner. He was an avid supporter of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society where he established the Leon Weiner Scholarship Fund. In 1985, he was a recipient of the D.H. White Award and was honored on his 80th birthday for lifetime commitment to Jewish education by TORCH. He and Sandra established the Weiner Fellowship at The Kinkaid School and the Sandra and Leon Weiner Philanthropy Award at the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. Together with Sol and Annette, they supported The Emery/Weiner School, of which the middle school was named for their father, and were generous supporters of the United Jewish Campaign in Houston.
Leon also was an accomplished matchmaker for Jewish singles, a project he took on during a lull in community leadership roles. What started with pink and blue index cards ultimately became an earnest process that eventually grew into organized gatherings and later singles activities.
He leaves a legacy of values for his children to follow, including the imperative to keep good relations with family members. He was a constant teacher to them of humility and Jewish values. He led by his actions. During eight years of declining health, his kind demeanor was still evident. Though he was unable to speak for many years at the end of his life, his sparkling blue eyes and kindness came through and was felt by those who took care of him. The family thanks Houston Hospice for their help this past month and acknowledges with tremendous gratitude those who have been with him through all these years, especially the team of caregivers who were assisting him in his final years of illness: Miguel Ramirez, Jose Ramirez, Antonio Chan, Homero Alarcon, Maritza Quiroz, Lee Anne Zikeli, Ricardo Chavez, Aries Gatmen and Felisari Romero.
Adhering to the ideals of Chapter 2 of Mishna 13 in "Pirkei Avot," "Ethics of Our Fathers," Leon Weiner had a good eye, was a good friend, a good neighbor and a man who weighed his actions. Above all, he had a good heart.
Funeral services will be held Sunday, Sept. 15, 3 p.m., at Congregation Brith Shalom, 4610 Bellaire Blvd., Bellaire, TX 77041.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations in Leon's memory be made to the Leon Weiner Employment Fund of Jewish Family Service, 4131 S. Braeswood, Houston, TX 77025, www.jfshouston.org; to Congregation Brith Shalom , 4610 Bellaire Blvd, Bellaire, TX 77401, www.brithshalom.org; or to a charity of your choice.
An online guest book and tribute video of Leon are at www.houstonjewishfunerals.com.
Published in Houston Chronicle on September 15, 2013