I do not feel remotely qualified to write about Eugene Driker, nor can I let the sun go down tonight – Shabbat T'shuvah, the sabbath of return, among and between the holiest days of the year – without observing what an incalculable loss his passing is for our community.
Crain's literally charted Driker's influence in Detroit, but I don't imagine being ranked the 23rd most connected Detroiter of 2015 much mattered to him. From the limited time we spent together, it was clear that he cared deeply about the city and Jewish community – and did not have much use for praise and accolades. He always reminded me of the Truman quote, "It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit."
As for his own words, here are some of my favorite lines from the interview he did with Susie Pappas in 2018:
"I was the vice president of my graduating class, and I was involved, somewhat, in the social milieu of the school. In the middle of my high school years, my father bought a candy store on Dexter and Richton, without telling my mother. She almost plunged a knife into his head. We all wound up working in the candy store ... That took me away from two years of social life at Central. So, I think about the 10th and 11th grade, I was working from three in the afternoon, 'til 11 at night at the candy store."
"...my father said I could go to any college I wanted to, as long as I could get there on the Dexter bus. There weren't a lot of choices for us. My older sister had gone to Wayne, my older brother had gone to Wayne. My parents were struggling to make living. The tuition at Wayne was $100 a semester. I had accumulated a couple thousand dollars of savings from working at the candy store. My father, I think paid me $15 a week. I put it all in the bank. I worked at summer camps. I'd been working since I was 12 years old. So, Wayne was the obvious choice. So many of my friends from Central and the neighborhood went to Wayne. It was like going a little further. You took the Dexter bus a little further. It was a wonderful experience."
"I was one of the mediators in the Detroit Bankruptcy which is about to celebrate, if one celebrates a bankruptcy, it's about to mark its fifth anniversary next month. It'll be the fifth anniversary of the bankruptcy. So, I spent 16 months working on resolving the bankruptcy with five other mediators. When we finished that task in, I think, in an extraordinarily short period of time, nobody ever thought it was gonna get done in 16 months. Elaine, my wife, was sitting with me in the jury box in the courthouse and Judge Steven Rhodes' courtroom in the bankruptcy court, as he announced his approval of the plan of adjustment. And I turned to my wife, and I said, 'Geeze, I wish I was 25 years younger, because I'd like to see the next reel of this movie.' Little did I think that the next reel of the movie would play out in the ensuing two, or three, or four years."
Here's the first few minutes of the oral history he did with the Yiddish Book Center:
May his memory be for a blessing.