Remembrances of Michael

Karen Simmons, The Children’s Law Center of New York, Executive Director

The board and staff of the Children’s Law Center of New York are deeply saddened by Michael’s passing. His capacity to give had no bounds.  He was an inspiration, an innovator, and a true and dedicated champion for those in most need of an advocate. I appreciated his support and friendship.  Our condolences and sympathy to Michael’s family, and to the Board and staff of NYLPI.

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Charlene A. Toombs

Farewell My Dear Friend……Michael
I find this extremely difficult for me.  As I begin writing, I start to cry and wet the paper; finding myself starting all over again.
I have so many thoughts racing through my mind right now.  Where do I begin?
When I first met Michael, he was a burst of energy. He was ready to take the world by storm.  Michael truly worshiped at the feet of honesty, honor, loyalty and integrity.  People talk about these values, but Michael lived them and embraced them.
He dedicated so many years of his life in becoming a true fundraising titan, and as for his work ethic; a true genius.
The many awards and accolades that he received during his career for his dedication and hard work as a willing ambassador on behalf of all those with disabilities, amongst other things, and the respect people had for him; are truly a testimony to this.
I don’t know the exact number of years I’ve had the privilege in knowing Michael, but every moment was memorable.  We started out as co-workers and then I became his Executive Assistant.  I’ve learned so much from this great teacher.
I think about him every day and since his passing, I find myself talking to him saying just little things like “Hi” or “Isn’t this a beautiful day”?  You know…..small talk.
My life changed for the better from knowing him and has been changed forever with his passing. I know I will never be the same.
Although, he will forever be a part of my life, I say farewell to a wonderful and loving former boss, friend and human being.
You’ll forever be in my heart.

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Denise Kronstadt, Modern Courts/Member Task Force on Civil Legal Services

Michael made me laugh, his wit was extraordinary. His focus while working on the Task Force was inspiring; he would frame issues in this very precise, clear manner. I loved listening to him. I am so glad to have known him, even for such a brief time. My deep-felt condolences to his family.  I am sorry for your loss. Rest his soul.

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Rose Villazor, Hofstra Law School

Michael gave me my first public interest job. I recall the day I interviewed for the fellowship position at NYLPI. At the time, I was also considering a fellowship at two legal clinics in NY and I was expecting to hear from an associate position at a law firm. I had not heard of NYLPI and I was, to be honest, not sure whether it would be a good fit for me. I wanted to do workers’ rights issues for immigrants. The work at NYLPI would focus on immigrants’ rights, but not workers’ issues and, instead, language access.
Michael met me at the lobby with a big smile on his face and twinkle in his eyes. I was immediately struck by his energy and passion for civil rights. I had a full day of interviews with lawyers and community organizers. By the end of the day, I knew that I would most likely take the job if they offered it to me. I admired the people I met and their commitment to racial justice. I thought that it would be a great place for me to start my legal career. (I was at the time clerking for a judge in DC).
What probably sealed it for me (that I would take the job if offered to me) was Michael. I was nervous about moving to NYC, which I viewed to be a cold, indifferent and overwhelming city. (Exciting, yes; nice people, not so much [well, that’s what I thought at the time anyway]). Anyway, at the end of the day at NYLPI, I asked the receptionist for directions to go uptown because I had another interview. Michael overheard this and said, “As much as I’d like for you to be here at NYLPI, let me give you directions so you don’t get lost.” Then he said, “You know what, I’ll walk you to the train station and tell you where to go.” As we walked the next two blocks, he then proceeded to tell me two things that make those from NYC different from those not from NYC: those who know which way is the front of the train and those who know where to switch from the local to the express. He didn’t know it at the time but getting directions from him completely alleviated anxiety I had about taking the subway.
I remembered Michael’s kind gesture when he later offered me the job. There was no doubt in my mind that joining NYLPI would be the right move for me from a career perspective. But, really, to me, working at NYLPI meant that I would have this exceptional and unique opportunity to be a part of a team led by Michael, whose commitment to doing great things (leading the organization) and small things (showing a non-NYC how to use the subway) would help me to become a better lawyer and person.
Thank you, Michael, for giving me the chance to be a part of a wonderful organization designed to achieve just results for the marginalized. I learned a lot from you and others at NYLPI during my almost four years there. I will forever be grateful to Michael for that opportunity.

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Michelle Kraus, NYLPI

I am honored that I worked for and with Michael.  He was an incredible teacher, leader, friend and role model.  We are lost without him but we are continually inspired by all that he left for us.  We are incredibly lucky to be doing the work that he left in our paths, but it is most painful to do without him.  NYLPI will never be the same without him, but will always be because of him.  Thank you, Michael.  We miss you and cherish the time that we had with you.

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Alistair Morley, Friend from university in London

I hadn’t seen Michael for some 28 years until we met in New York two years ago – on my first trip to the States. But I always kept details which would enable me to contact him should I go to the US. The reason being that at university he was a thoughtful, kind and generous man with a sharp sense of humour.

Well when I met Michael, I found him very much the same way – interested in others, willing to go out his way for them and funny. A kind decent person. But this time we had his family to talk about – who he spoke of with pride, tenderness and joy.
I’ll miss Michael.

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Rick Werner, John Stewart Kennedy Professor of Philosophy/Hamilton College

Michael was my student while he attended Hamilton College.  I knew him well.  He was one of the student leaders of our campus movement to encourage the trustees to divest their economic holdings in apartheid South Africa, a worldwide movement at the time.  Michael worked tirelessly and always with a sense of humor on the project that included nonviolent direct actions.  While the college never divested, by the time the movement ended both the President of the Board of Trustees and the President of the College as well as both the Dean of the Faculty and the Dean of Students resigned.  The divestment movement at Hamilton ushered in a whole new administration and changed the college for the better.  We are a more inclusive, a more open college than the one that Michael knew.  We still benefit from that change and Michael played a big role in it.

Michael was also an excellent student.  He was a first-rate philosophy student.  Michael seemed to learn without effort, to excel because he cared about learning.  So much of Michael seemed to fit that same model.

Michael and I were friends during his years at Hamilton and we remained friends after he graduated although I saw him rarely as our lives went in different directions.  I met him and his family at an Alumni Weekend many years ago when the children were all young.  We had lunch a few times when I taught a semester in NYC about six years ago.  He proudly showed me his office and told me of his work.  He seemed to love his work and his colleagues.  I saw him last June 2011 during Alumni Weekend at Hamilton and we had the opportunity to sit and talk for a while.  We talked about his work and his life.  I am glad I had that opportunity not knowing it would be the last time I would see Michael.

I loved Michael.  It was difficult to know Michael and not love him.  Michael was so full of life and such a kind, decent, and good person.  He cared and cared especially for those who lacked privilege, those less fortunate than himself.  Since he left, the world is a colder place.  I continue to miss Michael.  I know that I am not alone in this.

I offer my condolences to Michael’s family and friends.  I can only imagine the pain that they suffer in his loss.

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Georgene and Irving Dreishpoon

Our niece, Zerline, introduced us to Michael when they first met. They were in Florida participating in tryouts for the Israeli Olympic event. We went to the center to watch them play. At dinner that evening, we know it was a happening from the light in both their eyes. Michael and Zerline became a truly special happening together. They shed their vibrant light on all privileged to be close to them. Michael gifted us an amazing legacy of accomplishment in his short life. Gifted, as a part of his legacy are Brice, Garon, and Zaya who with our dear Zerline will always keep him close. With much love, Aunt Georgene and Uncle Irving Dreishpoon

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Chet Safian, Princeton AlumniCorps

For many years NYLPI was a partner agency of Princeton AlumniCorps and hosted many of our yearlong Fellows.  Michael served as an exemplary mentor to these Fellows and helped provide them with the civic leadership experiences and training which have made them responsible and productive citizens.  He will be remembered with great fondness by all those members of the Princeton community fortunate enough to have known him.

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William J. vanden Heuvel, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute

Over many years of close friendship with the Goodman family, I came to know Michael and cherished his friendship. He brought integrity and intelligence and pragmatic idealism to his work. He served his country, his community and all of us by working for social justice –and using the law as the instrument to accomplish his objectives. He was a natural leader, receiving loyalty just as he gave it. A tireless worker, he inspired all of us to do more, to work harder, to give more generously to what he believed in. He brought humor and wit to all of us. He was truly beloved –and always will be.

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Eleanore Rothenberg, Michael’s mother

Michael was a good boy and a great man.  He never gave me or his father pain because we were dealing with his developmentally disabled older brother.  We were proud of him when he became an activist while in college, organizing a “rainbow coalition” to demand of the college “divestment” of their holdings in South Africa.  His passion for social justice drove his actions and made his work important for large segments of the community.  Michael’s passing leaves a hole in my heart and I will miss him terribly.

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Peter Lasusa, Board Chair – U.S. Squash

Michael’s passing was a shock to all of us.  He was so special.  I found the service memorializing and celebrating his life profoundly sad, yet beautiful and uplifting.  The strength shown by everyone was amazing.

Michael was the catalyst for so much of the progress made at U.S. Squash over the last decade.  His influence on the sport of squash was profoundly positive and important. The clear vision and advice Michael regularly communicated to me personally (along with numerous others) beginning over ten years ago directly led us down the path to great progress.  Michael understood like no one else how if U.S. Squash transformed its governance structure, great things would necessarily follow.  He brilliantly articulated the road map that we have followed to the benefit of everyone who loves the game of squash.  His vision is being realized and it is one of the many parts of his amazing life that make up his lasting legacy.

I know you have heard this from many others—Michael had a hugely positive influence on me personally. He was my mentor and guide with U.S. Squash.  He taught me a great deal, from the big picture visionary to the mundane (yet essential) details of best practices for an organization’s leadership and governance.  I have met so many amazing wonderful people in squash throughout the U.S. and all around the world because of Michael’s encouragement of me to get involved.  He created joy for me and many others. My sincerest condolences to his wonderful family and colleagues at NYLPI.
Peter Lasusa
Board Chair – United States Squash Racquets Association

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Betsy Cavendish, Appleseed

With David Stern, Michael led a small annual retreat of Executive Directors of justice-based organizations at Glynwood, NY.   Through many conversations and meals, I was so impressed by Michael’s thoughtfulness, humor, warmth, candor, canny sense of strategy, innovative spirit and passion for justice.  He wanted to see the best in people — whether his staff, his volunteers, his board members, his donors, or other colleagues in the struggle for justice.  Though he rose to the top of his field, he did not take on any airs or stuffiness.  My last memory with him was kayaking on the Hudson, so full of life and seemingly full of happiness.  My heart breaks with all of yours that he is gone, but more than most people who live twice as long, he left a great and lasting mark for the better and hopefully that will be some tiny bit of solace to all the other heartbroken people he left behind.

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Harlene Katzman, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Pro Bono Counsel

My last lunch with Michael was during the fall of 2011.  He took me to one of his favorite Thai places near NYLPI and told me he wanted to share a few dishes, and that he had some suggestions about what “we” should order.  We wound up eating things I could not pronounce or recognize, and had what was for us a typical conversation about the state of events in the public interest community, a bit about our families, a sprinkle of gossip, and a dollop of teasing every time I ate a chili I couldn’t handle.  I loved those conversations with Michael, and they never failed to make me feel special.  Because that’s what Michael did – he made you feel special.  He made you feel capable of changing the world, and of doing the right thing.  And he left you feeling as if all of it was your idea.  Then he followed it up with a warm hug and a huge smile.  Michael had these kinds of moments with more people than I can count, never failing to give his full attention, and always bringing his tremendous resourcefulness and creativity to the table.   He brought humor, warmth, compassion and an idea to every encounter.  It’s why so many of us loved him.
It is a tragic and unbearable loss for our community to have lost Michael when he was in the prime of his life.  He was undoubtedly one of our community’s strongest advocates and one of its most loyal, generous friends.  My heart still aches for his family, and for the staff at NYLPI.  My heart still aches for all of us.

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Deborah Hensler, Stanford Law School

All deaths of people “before their time” are tragic but Michael’s is a particular tragedy. He was a lovely and loving person who made work his passion and his passion his work. His death truly leaves a hole in the world.
I hope as they grow older his children will be able to take comfort in the legacy he left with his work, as reflected in the comments here.

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Melissa Beck, Legal Information for Families Today (LIFT)/CEO

The Board and staff of Legal Information for Families Today (LIFT) are deeply saddened by Michael’s passing. He was an inspiration, an innovator, and a true and dedicated champion for those in most need of an advocate. He leaves a legacy that inspires all of us to push forward in our individual and collective efforts to ensure access to justice and a better world. We extend sympathy to Michael’s family, and to the Board and staff of NYLPI.

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Fred Fields, Older Adults Technology Services

I met first met Michael six years ago, when I was at United Way of NYC, running its nonprofit capacity-building group.  NYLPI helped many of the poverty-fighting organizations we supported, and more recently helped my new organization with brokering two separate pro bono engagements – both of which were excellent.
I will remember Michael as a lively, loving, compassionate person who truly cared about people, especially the less fortunate.  We will miss you, Michael, and hope, that in some small way, we can carry your work forward.
O Lord, support us all day long, until the shadows
lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world lies hushed, and
the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in thy mercy grant
us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last.

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Kim Sweet, Advocates for Children of New York

Michael was my boss for 9 years, and after I left NYLPI and became an Executive Director myself, he was my mentor.  It wasn’t until I started running a nonprofit organization that I fully appreciated all Michael did to make NYLPI a great place to work. He was incredibly generous with his time, his wisdom, and his humor. Even now, I can think of so many things I want to ask him or thank him for.  And he always knew where to get fantastic food!  For me, eating in Chinatown will never be the same. I will miss him very much.

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Amanda Masters, Former NYLPI Attorney

I worked for Michael and Marianne at NYLPI for 8 years.  I always felt like they were the mom and dad of the office, and the rest of us were the kids.  Sometimes the well-behaved kids.  Michael always expressed respect for the work the attorneys, organizers, advocates and staff were doing in the office, it was never fake, and it mattered. He would leave a little note on the yearly anniversary of my hire date, expressing thanks for the work, and I kept them in a little stack in a drawer. He was funny, kind, enthusiastic, and generous. After I left NYLPI he was always willing to have lunch to talk shop and gossip.  He was a very observant person, and you could tell he really truly enjoyed people. Zerline came to every NYLPI function and when they worked the room together you could tell she was in love with him and he was in love with her, and they were perfectly matched. I’m very grateful to have worked with Michael during that time, and to have known him, and I echo Veronica’s wish that there was another chance to thank him.  I had a baby in November and brought her to meet Michael at NYLPI in December when she was just a few weeks old. He gave her a NYLPI onesie.  (He also had that gift for useful swag.)  I wish I could go back to December and say many more things to Michael. My heart goes out to Zerline and his family, at home and in the office.

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Sascha Bollag, NYU School of Law

I interned with NYLPI in the summer of 2011, as a rising 3L.  From the very beginning I was incredibly impressed with how Michael clearly made time for everyone in the organization, and throughout the summer, he over and over made time for the interns, taking huge chunks of his time, even an entire day at one point, to share his experience and insights (and perhaps most importantly, his in-depth knowledge of the best, hidden Asian restaurants in Chinatown and around the city).  Michael really helped us feel welcome at NYLPI, and I felt privileged to be able to spend some time with him.  He will truly be missed.

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Patricia Martone, Former NYLPI Board Chair

In 1997, I was the Board Chair of NYLPI. We had decided that the organization was ready for an Executive Director. Our then Executive Director, Joan Vermuelen, told me that she had a great candidate for the position – a young lawyer named Michael Rothenberg, who was working at the Vera Institute. Joan and Michael came to my office so that I could meet Michael. I was immediately impressed with Michael. His energy, commitment and charisma were apparent.
We hired Michael, and everyone – Joan, staff, clients and Board – loved working with him. He had a special ability to communicate well with people from all walks of life. I particularly enjoyed working with Michael, because he shared my enthusiasm for fund raising and growing the organization. By 1998 we started down the path of growth that Michael led for these many years. After Michael became Executive Director, he grew in so many ways, becoming a tireless advocate, effective communicator, and powerhouse fundraiser.
The years I spent as Board Chair were among the most enjoyable of my legal career. My positive working relationship with Joan and Michael were a large component of the pleasure I took in that role. And even after I was no longer Chair, Michael continued to challenge and inspire me with his devotion to NYLPI’s mission.
I am still coming to terms with the loss I feel over Michael’s passing. But, one thing I do know. Michael made the world a better place for me and many others.
With best regards,

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Fiona McLeay, Public Interest Law Clearing House (Vic)

I am the executive director of the Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH) in Melbourne Australia. My organisation (and our sister office in Sydney Australia) was started almost 20 years ago, and is based on the NYLPI model.  I had the privilege of meeting Michael in March last year and he was pleased to hear that PILCH has gone from strength to strength over that time. I am deeply saddened to hear of his death, but proud to lead an organisation that shares in the legacy that he passed on.  I send condolences, both personally and on behalf of PILCH, to our NY colleagues in the fight for equal justice.

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David Yamada, Suffolk University Law School, Boston

When I heard about Michael’s passing last weekend, my heart sank. And the circumstances of his death made this an even more difficult loss to process.
I was a young lawyer and Michael was a law student at NYU when we became acquainted. We were officers of NYU’s Public Interest Law Foundation, which awarded seed money grants to fledgling public interest law projects. We worked closely together and became friends.
My contact with Michael was only occasional after I moved to Boston, but I was soooo proud of the work he was doing at NYLPI.  And now, reading the many tributes to him posted online, I know that I was among the many gifted by his generosity and friendship.
I have a free podcast series, and this week I devoted a short recording to Michael and what he meant to me and so many others:
All these wonderful things that people are saying about Michael…they remind us how inadequate words can be to capture the essence of this remarkable human being.

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Michael A. Stusser

Michael and I were among nine college graduates from all over the country to be hired by the brilliant Susan Birmingham to be trained as organizers for the PIRGs (Public Interest Research Groups) in 1986. Michael and I became fast (and ever-lasting) friends, always brainstorming about ways to radically change and improve the world. (Turned out he was better at it than I was…)
I will add only one memory, and let anyone who wishes contact me any time to commiserate, laugh and share proud stories of our friend and co-conspirator ( After an initial training period in Berkeley, Michael and I were moved to Los Angeles to begin organizing a series of environmental and consumer-protection initiatives in California. We had a great apartment in Venice Beach, and began to get to know one another well over meals (cooked by Michael), brainstorms, shared stories, canvassing, phone-banks and hard work.
One day, waiting for a bus, a third young man walked up and began waiting with us at the stop. Over the course of a few minutes, the stranger looked over at us periodically, and, at one point, Michael saw him staring and said, simply, “Whataya f@ckin’ know me?”
Michael – a New Yorker through-and-through with a heart of gold – had layers upon layers of intense, wonderful, insightful, hilarious, brilliant ever-surprising strategies and methods of communication. I love him dearly…R.I.P.

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Frederick Lane, Independent Management Consultant

I came to NYLPI as a consultant and stayed as a volunteer.  Michael’s  leadership was exceptional.  As was his friendship.

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Ray Fusco, Kayak Guide

I have been moved deeply by the passing of Michael.  I had the unique opportunity to watch, enjoy and guide Michael while at play on the Hudson River.
Michael was a natural athlete, an appreciator of nature, and he possessed a fun, playful, competitive side surely from his squash days.  He loved being good at paddling, he enjoyed the physical effort involved in sport.  While paddling with his colleagues, from their Glynwood retreat, he always watched over them making sure everyone was safe and having a good time.
I had the honor of taking Michael and Garon out on a paddling trip.  His love for Garon was magical.  I was brilliant to watch the connection.
His kind, gentle and playful soul touched me and inspired many others.  I miss him.
My condolences to his family and the NYLPI team.

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John Doyle, 2011 NYLPI Intern

A memory.  Last summer, the interns were enlisted to come along to NYLPI’s annual golf fundraiser at Bethpage.  Just glad to be out of the office, we were expecting nothing more than a lazy day of behind-the-scenes tasks.
The pressure surely must have been on for Michael as partners from the biggest firms (a large source of NYLPI’s funding) descended upon us. We expected to be completely off his radar as he would no doubt be devoting all of his energy to the high-profile guests.  Many of you would have known better.  He was with us much of the morning: pushing us aside to help stuff gift bags, introducing us to people of interest, and insisting we take a break to go to the driving range.
Later in the morning he even invited us to join him on his golf cart as he checked in with guests.  I was first to get this coveted face time with our admired boss.  As we drove around offering water and compliments to the guests, Michael peppered me with thoughtful questions: what was I working on, how did I think NYLPI could help in my job search, why was I passionate about environmental justice.
But within a couple of minutes into our ride it became apparent that Michael had something in his eye – he was vigorously rubbing it, stopped to pour water in it, and eventually even asked me to drive.  As we switched seats I was able to see that his entire eye was swollen, red, and tears were flowing out of it.  I couldn’t imagine anything more uncomfortable on such a hot and dry day.  But rather than take refuge in the breeze and silence of the electric cart, he insisted on continuing our conversation, hanging on to my words as though nothing was wrong.
It’s not a conversation I will forget. And his commitment to make all whom he interacted with feel welcomed and valued is something I deeply admire and seek to work toward.

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Lillian Moy, Legal Aid Society of Northeastern NY

Michael and I worked to promote greater diversity in the legal services world — he talked the talk AND walked the walk. He opened the door for many people of color in our work world and pushed me to think big on this issue. He helped us to benchmark our status so that we could measure our progress. He was engaging and persuasive when he talked about what we had to do to make our community more diverse. We’ll continue the work in his honor. And when he would call me he would always say “Moy Moy Moy Moy Moy, this is Rothenberg.”


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Richard Spies, Case Manager Pro

Only twice have I been spontaneously overwhelmed to the point of tears by a cascading sadness and sense of loss. Last weekend that occurred upon receiving the news of Michael’s death.
My visceral reaction was initially surprising. Michael was truly kind, charming, committed, interesting, smart, humorous… a wonderful and remarkable man. What really hit me, however, were the many moments accumulated unconsciously over a handful of years that, when taken together, reflect an extraordinary consistency and depth of empathy and compassion. His many altruistic endeavors and willingness to take on injustices are well known. He was just as diligent in assuring that his employees were well taken care of and all were treated with respect and kindness. He was even there to lend advice and support to my children after they moved to NY.
Michael’s love for humankind and his passionate, consistent devotion to its service is a sterling example of a life well lived.

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Daisy Martinez, Barrier Free Justice at Kings County District Attorney’s Office

It saddens me to see a wonderful man gone too soon. I did not know him very well. But I knew about his work. I had an opportunity to introduce myself and had brief conversations with him on some occasions. I did come to realize his great kindness and compassion towards those less fortunate than him. And I do know that he was very highly respected throughout the community and profession, and his good works changed the lives of many. No comfort is quite enough to replace the loss.
_ \ – – /
from deaf community

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Jackie Jenkins-Cox, Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson and City of Albany Common Council Member

Michael and I met a few years ago and I must say we began to have some of the same interests.  He was kind, smiling and always sharing a nice word.  To the family please know Michael touched all of our hearts and he will be missed.
My condolences to his family and the staff at NYLPI.

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Patricia Pap, Management Information Exchange, Boston

I had the great pleasure to work with Michael on our National Fundraising Conference for legal aid programs in NYC some years  back. He was an enthusiastic team member, and offered to our conference in the presentations he did new thinking and lots of energy.  I developed great admiration for Michael and NYLPI.  I feel tremendous sorrow at his passing.

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Timothy Brog, Friend

Michael was one of my best friends in junior high school.  I remember competing with him at basketball as well as many other sports.  He was my first business partner when we bought and sold baseball cards.  He was smart, hard working and extraordinarily trustworthy.

Although we fell out of touch for more than 25+ years, we reconnected in the past five years as if a quarter of century was no more than a day or two.  The ribbing and jokes were the same.

My condolences to his family and the NYLPI.  He will be truly missed.
Timothy Brog

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Maxine Williams, White & Case LLP

Michael was the man I went to whenever I wanted to know what a good person would do, or say, or think in a particular situation. They don’t make unfailing compasses like that on every production line.  He will be utterly and deeply missed.

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Veronica Eady Famira

I’m not sure what to say. Or rather, I’m not sure how to describe what I feel. I have a huge hole in my heart. Michael was something of a social justice icon, and his memory will live on as such. He left us with a tremendous legacy. Sometimes when you’re in the thick of your work, you neglect to say thank you. I regret that I didn’t tell Michael how much I respected him and thank him for the important role he played in the lives of my clients during the years I was on the NYLPI staff and the important role he played in my own life.
I will always remember him smiling and joking and bringing sunshine into NYLPI. I will remember the golf outings at Bethpage. I will remember how at board meetings, the adoration, trust, and respect of the board members for him was palpable.
I will always miss him.

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Linda Cronin-Gross, LCG Communications

My company provided pr services to NYLPI for about six years.  Michael was always determined to grow NYLPI and to provide all the support needed – including pr and pr training – for the staff attorneys to make their legal service more complete.  He had amazing vision and strength and never wavered.
Although I hadn’t seen him in a few years, it’s almost unbearably sad to know that we’ll never have another of our long chats again, which I always enjoyed.
I’ve stayed in touch with a couple of former NYLPI staffers so, to them and to the current staff, I say, please continue despite the horrible pain. It’s the best way to honor him.  And I will always be thankful for the time spent with him and with NYLPI and will do my best to fight for progressive change.  He will certainly not be forgotten.

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Lauren Weedman

Michael came to see every single performance I ever did in New York City. He was sometimes the only one in the audience…along with his fellow office workers that he drug to the show with him.  He was absolutely my biggest NY fan and supporter and I am left so confused and sad and empty by the news of his death. He was the kindest man in business attire that I ever had the pleasure of knowing.  I miss him so much even though I saw him maybe once ever few years.  Oh Michael…

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Marcel Chaine, NYSCQCAPD

Michael was one of the most dedicated and genuine person that I had the pleasure to work with in my over thirty years of disability advocacy. Although he led  a highly respected disability rights program, he seldom sought glory for himself and quickly acknowledged the efforts of others and in particular his dedicated staff. I will forever remember his kindness, thoughtfulness  and commitment to persons with disabilities. I will cherish the memories of our times together and in particular our golf tournament planning discussions. I will miss him as a valued colleague and a friend. My heartfelt sympathy to his beloved family and to the entire  NYLPI community.

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Vince Warren, Center for Constitutional Rights

I will always be indebted to Michael for taking the time to mentor me as a new executive director.  Spending time with him, peppering with dumb questions and receiving his wisdom was the most wonderful gift I could ask for.  He has helped me (and by extension the Center for Constitutional Rights) more than I can say.

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Pamela Maurath, New Leaf Strategies, Ltd.

I met Michael when he was a fellow at the Rockefeller Family Fund and stayed in touch when he moved on to NYLPI.  I was amazed as he continually expanded both the breadth and depth of NYLPI.  To echo the words of Saturday’s memorial, Michael was a Champion in everything he did. I will miss his presence greatly.  But the real tribute to Michael Rothenberg will be our collective effort to carry on his work for the less privileged members of our society.

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Laura Nelsen, South Brooklyn Legal Services

When I was a 24 year old, brand new South Brooklyn Legal Services lawyer in 1992, Michael escorted me on my first trip to Brooklyn Housing Court.  For some reason, I have always remembered that day – we walked over to the courthouse, he eased my “new girl” nerves, since at that point he was a grizzled veteran (all of 27 or 28 years old), and to this day that was the best job I ever had.  I can still remember his office at SBLS, with its brown wood paneling in all its glory, and talking about how much we cared about our clients.  Over the years, we were never super close friends but would have lunch from time to time, run into each other at events or on the subway.  When I brought home his picture from the memorial service, my 6 year old daughter (who had never met him) looked at it for a long moment and said “Mom, he looked like a really good guy”.  “He was”, I said.  “He was”.

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Jason Raylesberg, NYLPI Summer Intern

Although I only interacted with Michael directly on several occasions this summer as an intern at NYLPI, his enthusiasm and commitment to his work, kindness and unbelievable graciousness toward everyone – including the summer interns, was incredibly infectious. I admired him as a strong role model and humble leader. One of the best highlights of my summer was when he took all of the summer interns to his favorite ice cream place in Chinatown, and told us all about his many career experiences. He really was a rare and inspirational gem, and he will be sorely missed. I send my best to his family and the entire NYLPI organization.

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Anna Kornilakis, Vera (formerly)

Michael –

I will miss you so much. I was so lucky to have come to know you and become friends as “Vera alums” and then to name you, without your consent (!) as my development mentor. I was always so amazed by your ability to be so creative in fundraising for NYLPI each year. Over the past couple of years I enjoyed seeing you at the ballfields on weekends and getting together for fundraising brainstorming conversations over breakfast or at NYLPI. You were such a special person–there is no one like you–and you brought a smile to my and others’ faces just by walking in the room, you were always such a joy to be around and you had such an incredible sense of humor. I am so sorry for what you went through over the past few months, it is painful just to think of you suffering so much. In fact, for anyone who knows you, it is hard to think of you as anything but happy, witty, and at the top of your game. I will think of you every time I see your son walking to MS51 as I walk to the subway. He is the spitting image of you! You were so devoted to your family, your work, and to those in need. You will be SO so missed by everyone who was lucky enough to know you. Thank you for all of your guidance, your amazing good nature and your commitment to helping so many people in need.

Lots of love,


Dear Zerline and family:

Michael was such an unbelievable person. You were so lucky to have him at the center of your lives! I can’t even imagine how much fun it must have been to have Michael as your dad. I know how committed he was to the kids because he would talk about 51 or PS8 and fundraising there, and sometimes he seemed frustrated about why he/they couldn’t raise more money, etc. And Zerline, I don’t know if you remember but at one point my sister Christina needed to pick up some extra work and he connected her with you to help you in your office a few times and I think she may have babysat at one point too. Unfortunately I have only had the opportunity to meet you a couple of times, once at Michael’s father’s shiva at your house a few years ago. I was at the service on Sunday and I think everyone in that room felt so blessed to have shared even a small part of our lives with Michael. I was absolutely devastated to hear about your loss. It is just unfathomable to me and I can’t believe he is gone. I know you have more support right now than you can probably even manage, but please call on me if I can ever, ever do anything for you. I told Nicole Gueron that I work at the NYU Child Study Center and would like to help you in that way at a moment’s notice if you would like — please let me know. I will think of Michael fondly and hopefully it gives you and the children some comfort to know that every person in that church on Sunday will keep MIchael alive in their own way forever.

Anna Kornilakis

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Neil Calman MD, Institute for Family Health

Dear Friends and Colleagues:
We share in the sorrow of your loss of your esteemed Executive Director.  We have been the beneficiaries of the dedicated work of NYLPI’s Health Law Unit for many years now and continue to work with your incredibly talented and committed staff in seeking to achieve health equality for all New Yorkers.  Long after the steps we take in our brief lives here are heard no more, the footprints we leave with our friends and family bear evidence of our work and influence.  Michael’s impact will forever be a part of NYLPI’s legacy and continued work on social justice issues.

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Ann Lehman, Zimmerman Lehman

Michael was a cousin and a colleague.  I was always amazed that someone with such tremendous responsibility demonstrated such a big heart. And someone who lived in and worked in NYC, could always appear so calm.  He was exceptionally kind and always present when you spoke to him. Life has a funny way of throwing you curve balls when you least expect them. His legacy will live on for years to come and for that we can all be grateful.
My heart goes out to all of you NYLPI and especially to his family.
Ann Lehman

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Julia Ritchie, Ritchie | Tye Consulting

I met Michael this past year and immediately recognized his vibrance and charisma.  It was exciting to meet a leader who understood and appreciated the need to cultivate and nurture leadership in others. Since meeting Michael, I discovered that he was well known and admired by many in the field. I am sorry that I did not have more time to learn from him.

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Marc Kadish, Mayer Brown-Director of Pro Bono Activities and Litigation Training

Thank you for providing a vehicle for someone from out of town to share my thoughts. Having experienced a loss like this, albeit with a 14 year old son rather than a father and husband, over 25 years ago, I can at least say I know what everyone is going through.
I don’t travel to New York as often as I did in the past because the Assistant Director of our program comes to New York from Washington DC once a month. Before that I was frequently in New York. Every trip always included lunch with Michael and sometimes with Mark O’Brien. I enjoyed our conversations about the state of the public interest world, the role of large firms and the frustrations we all experienced from time to time. Our quiet relationship grew from our first meeting at an early Pro Bono Institute conference. Someone introduced us. At that time things were easier contribution wise. After just a few minutes I said that we would contribute a modest sum because I was so impressed with Michael. He candidly said that he was going to go on our website and find someone to put on his board. He called me and gave me a name. I told him I thought that person was too busy and would not have the time. He ignored my advice and of course immediately was able to recruit the lawyer. He then set out to increase our contribution. I so enjoyed his attitude that I could not stand in his way. His wicked sense of humor and his intelligence never failed to impress me. Some of my favorite memories of my public interest life involved Michael. We debated each other on “Pay to Play” at a Pro Bono Institute program. The room was packed. People were waiting outside the door. All I remember is laughing at each other’s positions and making fun of ourselves while still hopefully clarifying the controversy. He was also the kind of person who helped to connect people. He called me to ask me to meet Miriam Buhl when she first started at Weil. How could I turn him down. Now Miriam and I are close friends. Sometimes I would call him for advice and sometimes he called me. We always tried to help each other out when ever we could.
My last lunch with Michael was on September 16th. The next day my wife, youngest daughter and I visited Vassar college. Michael and his family were in the vicinity. We tried to connect for a lunch so he could meet my wife and daughter and I could meet his family. Now I regret even more that this did not happen..
I am sorry that I was not able to travel to New York on Sunday. I have spoken with people about the event. I have not stopped thinking about Michael since the news came out Thursday night..
I think of my favorite lines from Le Miz. The night before the students hit the barricades they sing Drink With Me .. and they say “May the Wine of Friendship Never Run Dry.”
May it ever be so
With love and respect
Marc Kadish

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Barbara R. Arnwine, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Our nation has lost one of its brightest lights. I always found Michael to be a thought leader with an amazing sense of camaraderie and inspiration. It pains me to think of the many young lawyers who will never meet him directly. Fortunately, he leaves behind a living legacy of accomplishments and aspirations which will compel these younger lawyers to see the world in its full potential and work hard to bring about the transformative change to which he devoted his life! Much love and condolences to his family and many friends and colleagues!

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Nicole Bramstedt, Urban Justice Center

My condolences go out to his wife and children. I wish them strength during this difficult time.

I met Michael briefly while I interned at NYLPI during a CUNY Law School internship in Fall 2005. My brief interaction with him was unique and made a lasting impact on me. Whereas other executive directors were polite and brief to us young law school students, Michael was friendly, warm and engaging. If I one day rise to the ranks of an executive director or corresponding position of authority, I will emulate Michael. Thank you Michael for setting the example I wish to follow.

Ms. Nicole Bramstedt

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Yisroel Schulman, New York Legal Assistance Group

I am proud to have known Michael. While the news of his passing has been devastating, I will always cherish the memory of our friendship.

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Lenore DiLeo-Berner, William Alexander Middle School 51

Michael touched the lives of so many students at MS 51 by generously giving to our annual fund and helping out the many teachers of his own children who attended our school.  He is greatly missed.  The MS 51 community is saddened by this news and send their deepest condolences to his lovely wife and children.

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Robert  Bank, American Jewish World Service

When I worked at GMHC many moons ago, Michael came into my life as a force majeure partnering on disability rights issues and other legal issues.  His leadership at NYPLI was characterized by smarts, compassion, willingness to think differently and challenge assumptions and be quick and bright and supportive all at the same time.  I hadn’t seen Michael for years, and was so shocked to hear of his passing.  I remember him for his spark, his light, his energy and commitment to making a better world.

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David Dorfman, Professor, Pace Law School

I knew Michael from when he was a small child, spending summers in a progressive bungalow colony in Northern Westchester.  I baby sat for him and his two brothers, and helped him improve his outside shot in basketball.  Years later, I re- connected with him–first I was a Legal Aid lawyer in Brooklyn when he graduated NYU Law school, and then I became a professor at Pace Law school when he took over the reins at NYLPI.  We would periodically commute together from Brooklyn into Manhattan.  In all those years, I saw him grow from a lovely young child to a wonderful man, completely committed to his community and to his family, smart, funny, energetic–the whole package.  Some people are truly irreplaceable—-I don’t know what else to say…….

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Colleen Scott, CQC

I only knew Michael in passing through our work, but he was always friendly and kind and I was saddened to hear of his passing. My heart goes out to all who knew him well and my prayers are with NYLPI staff and his family as they endure a great loss.

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Erica Dubno, Fahringer & Dubno

Michael was a compassionate advocate and kind friend. Hugs to his families — both at home and at NYLPI on this devastating loss. He will be missed.

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Sandee Sheldon, Formerly on the NYLPI Pro Bono Advisory Council

Michael was the kind of person that lit up the room when he spoke.  He had a kind and warm smile, and a real passion for justice.  As a young lawyer, he was someone I admired, and I aspired to have the same ability to inspire others to work hard for justice.  His death is a real loss that will be felt by the people in New York who so benefited from his work.  I myself am stunned and deeply saddened.  Michael will be missed.

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