Attorney and River Forest resident Howard Wax, who passed away in May, was remembered by close friend Lee Griesbach, among others, as someone who "collected friends" in the best sense of the phrase.
"He was a networker," added Griesbach's partner, David Miller.
Wax took his own life on May 12. He is survived by his husband, Robert Pooley, and two children, Sarah and Marcus Wax.
A native of Livingston, New Jersey, but a longtime Chicago-area resident, Wax had roles in a number of community organizations, and was for many years co-president of the mainly-LGBT synagogue Congregation Or Chadash. After he and his family moved to River Forest, Wax was also an active member at Oak Park Temple.
Rabbi Larry Edwards recalled that Wax was "very involved in his communitythe children's school, the synagogue, the tennis club. One of many words that come to mind about him is 'generous.' Howard devoted time and resources, both financial and intellectual, to the community the Jewish community, the LGBTQ community, pro-bono legal work and beyond."
Wax's friends' remembrances nearly all included a common theme: his knack for connecting people with one another. Close friend Mark Maroney said, "Whenever I met an individual or couple I thought would make a good connection with Howard and Rob, almost invariably it turned out they already knew one another, often through connections Howard had previously made."
Edwards added that Wax was "a friendly face and warm presence" at Or Chadash, noting that "numbers of people have told me that Howard was among the first to greet them and make them feel at home when they showed up for the first time. He was in fact the first person to invite me to attend a service at Or Chadash, where I later served as rabbi for 10 years."
"There was always two degrees of separation," said Griesbach. "You'd meet someone and somehow there'd be a connection to Howard, no matter who you spoke to or who you knew. He not only collected friends, but he connected them. He knew everyone's name and remembered everyone. It was amazing how he could do that."
Wax was an avid runner and took part in marathons and other races, and indeed met Pooley when both were members of Frontrunners/Frontwalkers Chicago. According to Griesbach, Wax was also an avid movie buff, loved musical theater, and was active in his tennis club, which was just as much a social group as it was a sports one.
"He liked to grow organizations and networks of people," said Miller.
Susan Boone, who is married to Edwards, explained why she stayed on "the opposite side any circle" Wax was in when he ventured out on the dance floor.
"He was also full of fun … He was prone to let loose unrestrainedly," Boone said. "He could do the Russian squat dance with flair. At Jewish events where people danced the hora, I observed on multiple occasions that individuals in his vicinity, and he himself, often lifted completely off the groundthey looked like characters in a Chagall painting, flying."
Maroney also noted Wax's devotion to his family, recalling, "Home life was important to Howard. He may have been the 'stay-at-home' dad, but he also helped make sure his family ventured out and experienced the world together, and with a wide circle of friends and extended family.
"I'll always remember the pride and admiration I felt years ago, seeing the photo of Howard and Robtwo gay dadswith their two small children, as part of a cover story in Chicago Parent magazine."
Besides being a stay-at-home father, Wax worked part-time at the Brown Elephant in Oak Park and did legal work for the Pro Bono Network.
"He was representing people who had come to this country, in a lot of cases, to escape some type of abuse," said Griesbach.
Miller mentioned that, when he was at Wax's shiva, a number of people credited Wax with introducing them to their life-partners. "Howard liked to match up couples and would hold dinner parties, ostensibly 'just to hold a dinner party,' that were really to set people up," he said.
Griesbach added, "It was pretty amazing how broad his reach was in touching people's lives."
In addition to Pooley and his children, Wax is survived by his sisters Rabbi Pamela ( Chaim Bronstein ) Wax and Sheila ( Willy ) Chang. Funeral services were held May 30 at Oak Park Temple. Wax's family has requested donations in his memory for either the Oak Park Temple Chevra Kaddisha ( burial society ) or the Pro Bono Network.