Do Not Resuscitate: August 2007: Archives

August 29, 2007

The Queen Of Mean Is Still Pulling Strings genre: Do Not Resuscitate & Happy Remembrances & Six Degrees of Speculation

The Queen Of Mean

In truth, I could care less about the estate of Leona Helmsley...but upon reading some of the instructions from her will on the internet this morning, I had to comment about the person that would leave these details and directives. Given the terms of the will, Helmsley, known unaffectionately as "The Queen Of Mean", lived up to her nickname...even after her death.

NEW YORK - Leona Helmsley’s dog will continue to live an opulent life, and then be buried alongside her in a mausoleum. But two of Helmsley’s grandchildren got nothing from the late luxury hotelier and real estate billionaire’s estate.

Helmsley left her beloved white Maltese, named Trouble, a $12 million trust fund, according to her will, which was made public Tuesday in surrogate court.

She also left millions for her brother, Alvin Rosenthal, who was named to care for Trouble in her absence, as well as two of four grandchildren from her late son Jay Panzirer — so long as they visit their father’s grave site once each calendar year.

Otherwise, she wrote, neither will get a penny of the $5 million she left for each.

Helmsley left nothing to two of Jay Panzirer’s other children — Craig and Meegan Panzirer — for “reasons that are known to them," she wrote.

“I direct that when my dog, Trouble, dies, her remains shall be buried next to my remains in the Helmsley mausoleum," Helmsley wrote in her will.

The mausoleum, she ordered, must be “washed or steam-cleaned at least once a year." She left behind $3 million for the upkeep of her final resting place in Westchester County, where she is buried with her husband, Harry Helmsley.

She also left her chauffeur, Nicholas Celea, $100,000.

OK, I'll be the first to acknowledge that its a free country and Helmsley was entitled to do as she saw fit. I'll even give her the benefit of the doubt and agree that she actually worked to earn some of the money held in her estate. Beyond that, I'm not sure I can find any other redeeming remarks to make about a woman who obviously spent the better part of her life angry, bitter, and vindictive.

No doubt Helmsley's will was designed to fulfill each and every intention found in the expression, "her reach extended beyond the grave". Such rancor is not only reprehensible, it is a restive reminder of a woman who apparently lacked the ability to see beyond her own self-absorbed persona...a woman who defined her worth solely in terms of wealth...and likely used that wealth to manipulate all those who came within striking distance of the virtual viper.

At the same time, I can't help but think that Helmsley was a fool...perhaps a judgment I have no authority to make...but one I'll proceed to offer with the confidence that my conclusion won't be challenged by a long line of Helmsley apologists and defenders.

Assuming the reports are accurate that the estate was worth approximately $2.5 billion...the money designated for friends, family, her chauffeur, her canine confidante, and, of course, the upkeep of her granite gravesite...is as best I can tell a paltry sum of just over 35 million, not even two percent of her estate.

In fact, the money spent on her final resting place...when combined with the funds designated for its upkeep as well as the dollars left to her dog...almost matches all the money she left to living relatives.

To understand my calling Helmsley a fool, one story will suffice to illustrate my assertion. A few years back, Helmsley decided to relocate the remains of her husband. The decision was precipitated when the cemetery elected to construct a large group mausoleum that obstructed the view from the family plot.

Leona Helmsley, for years the imperious head of a multibillion-dollar real estate and hotel empire, will spend eternity in a $1.4 million suburban mausoleum with a magnificent view, alongside her beloved husband, Harry.

She previously moved her husband's remains after becoming dissatisfied with his old neighborhood.

The expansive family mausoleum at Woodlawn was memorably described as a "tomb with a view," but the sweeping vista disappeared when a public mausoleum -- potentially filled with those "little people" who paid taxes -- went up nearby three years ago.

An irate Leona called the new construction "a disgrace," and resolved to relocate the remains of her husband and her son, Jay Panzirer.

She purchased a piece of land in Sleepy Hollow to construct a new mausoleum -- and quickly alienated her husband's new, living neighbors. A wooded section of the cemetery was stripped clean of trees in summer 2005.

The new construction lacked permits, and village officials quickly shut down the project, Zegarelli said.

The two sides worked out their differences -- fines were paid and donations were made by the Helmsley group to repair some of the damage. Last August, the mausoleum was approved for the reinterment.

Please note the final paragraph...the one in which the true nature of Helmsley is exposed. Specifically, in the words, "fines were paid and donations were made", the essence of Helmsley is revealed. Unwilling to see beyond her own desires and demands and unable to resolve issues amenably...Helmsley relied upon her money to buy the cooperation and congeniality of those she encountered.

Unfortunately, such a strategy rarely works with ones own family members...and the fact that she disinherited two of her grandchildren affirms that reality. Regardless, even in death Helmsley held fast to her beliefs and left the vast majority of her wealth to charity...and in so doing she confirmed herself to be a fool. Let me explain.

Anyone who has been around fundraising or worked with charitable organizations knows that those charged with the task of finding and finagling the necessary financial backing are masterful manipulators...and I say as much with no malice since it is a required skill. In my estimation, those who are successful at fundraising must be regarded as capable and competent pseudo-psychologists...and they must have the patience of Job.

Sadly, all too often, people like Helmsley succumb to the serendipitous swooning of these savvy shills...all the while believing that they are receiving the respect and the required restraint they desire and demand...but cannot obtain from those they encounter in the regular course of events...real life people who are often relatives with real feelings which are, on occasion, released in raw and unedited exchanges.

As we know, for a woman like Helmsley, there is little room for give and take...a debilitating condition which I believe she regularly exhibited...though I confess that I do not know the particular dynamics of its origin in her personality. Notwithstanding, this well-documented trait likely made her the ideal candidate for the donation dance...an artful exchange enacted by those able to convey the belief that one's partner is the ideal lead...while all the while directing their every step until such time as they are furtively separated from the sought after and subtly solicited funds.

At the end of this dance, people like Helmsley are unconsciously convinced that what they have taken in the way of psychic soothing far exceeds the gift they give...and the process of give and take has been reduced to little more than a primal pampering reminiscent of the comforting coos of a nurturing nanny.

In designating that the lions share of her fortune be distributed through the Leona and Harry Helmsley Charitable Trust, Helmsley departed this life still enamored with the faulty notion that charity does not and will not begin at home. Fortunately, those strangers who may benefit from her great wealth will not be required to dance with the devilish diva. Tragically, her family and friends who acquiesced to her every whim will remain relegated to the sidelines...still dancing to the demands of a damaged and domineering demagogue.

Tagged as: Empire State Building, Harry Helmsley, Leona Helmsley, The Queen Of Mean, Trouble

Daniel DiRito | August 29, 2007 | 9:42 AM | link | Comments (1)
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August 2, 2007

Thoughts On The Loss Of Life In Minnesota genre: Do Not Resuscitate & Happy Remembrances & Hip-Gnosis

The Light Remains

Tragedy elicits many responses...often automatic reactions that we rarely seek to understand...and that is as it should be given the shocking nature of the assault upon our psyche and the overwhelming grief that will certainly follow.

As I watched the unfolding of the bridge collapse in Minnesota and the devastation that will undoubtedly accompany the sudden loss of vibrant lives, I began to think about the function of faith and the impact of a belief in god during such moments of distress.

As a person who grew up closely affiliated with Catholicism...but no longer believes in any conventional construct of god...I often reflect upon the differences between my reactions to tragedy then and now. Before expanding on these thoughts, let me first provide some background information.

Several years back, I found myself in the midst of a difficult situation...one of those moments where one is uncertain how one will be able to survive the magnitude of the event...a period of time we've all experienced where we feel that our ability to hold our lives together is being challenged.

As I was lying in bed, unable to relax and enduring waves of anxiety along with rapid fluctuations of being hot and cold, I found myself praying for god to intervene...something I suspect we've all done and a practice that can often bring comfort.

Suddenly, out of the blue, I became angry with myself and what I perceived to be a pattern of living that no longer resonated and, more importantly, no longer brought comfort. There I was, asking god's help and feeling helpless and I just stopped. Instantly, I vowed to stop praying, to stop relying upon an external mechanism to save me from my moments of despair...to begin to accept the nature of this human existence, and to find the strength to endure...on my own.

Thus began my journey away from faith and towards facing the complexities of life more bravely and without the need to invoke the assistance of a higher being. It’s important that I explain my thought process. My decision wasn't born of anger with the god I had believed in for many years. In fact, I felt ashamed for having asked god's help so often and I tried to imagine him as a friend whose role had become little more than the comforter...the go to guy that everyone calls upon in times of trouble...and I decided it was wrong and that it must cease.

Over time, I came to believe that in letting go of god, I had actually become a better person...and if he did exist, my actions better honored the friendship and kinship he had provided. I accepted responsibility for my life...regardless of its origin or its inevitable end...and I faced both with a resolve to avoid the instinct to succumb to fear.

In doing so, I feel certain that if there is a god, I am finally living as he would have wanted...exercising my free will and finding harmony with the random nature of the world in which I live...all the while accepting that mortality is part of this wondrous journey.

Coming back to the disaster in Minnesota, both now with my new perspective, as well as back then with my prior beliefs, I find great sadness in the loss of life...but it has taken on a new meaning for me. While the pain is the same, I understand and accept that the life we know and live here on this earth is a sacred gift...regardless of how it was received...that must be celebrated...and even though it comes to an end...for us and for those we love...it lives on if we live it well...and finally, when we leave this life with grace, it has no doubt been well lived and will certainly be well remembered.

As we say goodbye to those lost in Minnesota, I celebrate their lives and I honor their memories. Today, I accept what I can know and I know what I can accept. In that harmony, I am humbled by both the beauty and the immense uncertainty of the human condition.

Tagged as: Atheism, Bridge Failure, Death, God, Minnesota, Mortality, Religion

Daniel DiRito | August 2, 2007 | 12:00 PM | link | Comments (0)
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