Chris Kelly: Big Shoes To Fill
Seymour Weissberger was a pain in the tuchus. A noodge. A mensch. A stinging gadfly who minced municipal officials but never words.
He was a dream source for a young reporter and a nightmare for elected officials who prize constituents who keep quiet. Seymour rarely raised his voice, but his message to the elected, appointed and entitled always rang loud and clear.
I am here. I am watching. I am not going away.
For decades, Seymour religiously attended public meetings of Downvalley borough councils, school boards and authorities. He showed up. Stood up. Spoke up.
On Thursday, Seymour showed up in the obituaries. Times-Tribune politics reporter Borys Krawczeniuk saw it first.
“Oh, no!” he said.
Borys and I often argued over which of us would write Seymour’s obituary. In the end, he slipped out the door right under our noses. He always had to have the last word.
Seymour was 91. Born in Taylor. Preceded in death by 15 siblings. A graduate of Taylor High School. World War II-era army veteran. Former Taylor councilman, devoted family man, business owner, volunteer and implacable advocate for open, honest government.
The obituary checked all these boxes, but Seymour’s story can’t be told in a few paragraphs. I’m blessed to be a footnote in it.
I was a rookie reporter assigned to cover the Downvalley beat — Taylor, Old Forge, Moosic, Duryea, Dupont, Avoca, the Riverside and Old Forge school districts and the Lower Lackawanna Valley Sanitary Authority.
Years before, Borys met Seymour the same way — at a public meeting. As the faces on the dais changed over the years, Seymour was a constant. The first time I was late to a meeting, he quietly but firmly gave me hell.
Then he handed me his notes. Seymour never got paid to be a reporter, but he had his beat covered. I never left Leader Variety — his hardware store — on Main Street in Taylor without a story or a better understanding of sewer fees, municipal bonds or how to be an instigator and a gentleman.
There, around a potbelly coal stove, Seymour held court. Crossing the threshold was like walking back in time. Seymour wasn’t just old school. He was the principal.
Some highlights from Times-Tribune archives:
Calling out the Riverside School Board on its lack of action on the Moosic amusement tax:
“I’m going to bring this up until you guys do something one way or the other. ... You’re going to make a decision.’’
Calling out the LLVSA board for illegally raising rates without notification. Seymour deducted the difference — $61.50 — from his payments:
“You say I owe my bill, I say I paid my bill. You people want me to follow the law, well, I want you to follow the law.”
Calling out the LLVSA chairman after catching him in an apparent lie.
“If you were standing here with a Bible under both arms and drinking a quart of truth serum, I wouldn’t believe you.”
Seymour’s serrated style didn’t enjoy universal appeal. He was threatened, ostracized and slandered with ethnic slurs. The windows of his business were smashed.
The bullying only made him more determined to be a pain in the tuchus.
“Democracy depends on people like Seymour, who won’t put up with the nonsensical things governments sometimes do,” Borys said. “Every town, every school board, every government agency needs a citizen — I mean a true citizen — like Seymour keeping an eye on them.”
Over the 20-odd years since our first meeting, I moved on to other beats and lost regular touch with Seymour. He called every now and then. Whether it was to criticize or praise me, every conversation left me with a warm feeling that came rushing back at his funeral.
Seymour was laid to rest Friday at the Dalton Jewish Cemetery. You could smell rain on the wind as the men struggled to keep their yarmulkes in place and giggling children weaved in and out of a crowd of about 50. We were all sorry to see Seymour go, but thankful to be part of his story and blessed to have him in ours.
Shalom, old friend. Thanks for the notes.
CHRIS KELLY, the Times-Tribune columnist, is a better person and journalist because of people like Seymour Weissberger.
Contact the writer:
@cjkink on Twitter. Read his award-
winning blog at timestribuneblogs.com/kelly.
Show up like Seymour
Scranton School Board
members, district employees and students, parents and
taxpayers will rally Monday at
5 p.m. outside Scranton High School to stand up and speak out for fair funding from the state. The district’s community relations and policy committee will meet at 5:30 in the auditorium to inform the public about the disparities legislators must correct if the district is to survive. Harrisburg needs to hear from you. Show up. Stand up. Speak up. I’ll see you there.