and this is the obituary two of his best friends wrote for him
Paul Du Brul, 1938-87 (P.3 Village Voice December 29, 1987)
New York lost a secret treasure last Friday when Paul Du Brul died at the age of 49. For 40 years he had lived every day in pain with cystic fibrosis, the crippling disease that was expected to kill him long before it did. The struggle to survive his illness ruled his body more and more as the years passed, but not his life. Paul conquered his fate with his character, and he became a one-man “brain trust” for a dozen of the city’s progressive causes—a role he continued until the day he died.
The public he served did not know him well, for Paul did his work behind the scenes and usually let others enjoy the credit. But if there had been no Paul Du Brul, there would have been no legislation to test and treat ghetto children poisoned by lead paint; the idea and the crusade were his. Had Du Brul not terrorized Ruth Messinger into running for City Council in 1977 after her exhausting defeat in an Assembly race, the city’s finest public servant would probably still be a social worker; for the past 10 years she sought his advice (and listened to his tirades) at least once a day.
The community organizer Steve Max once explained that Paul had mastered the art of “pre-arrival,” by which he meant that when you thought you had discovered the new and crucial issue, Paul was already there asking what took you so long to join him. One such occasion was the campaign against Westway, the landfill boondoggle that sleeps with the Hudson striped bass. In 1973, when there were fewer than 10 people preparing to resist the highway project, Du Brul was among the prophetic few: bursting with ideas, organizing the organizers, and demanding a commitment equal to his own. As a man whose lungs were vulnerable to automobile pollution, and one who knew that thousands more had trouble breathing, he took it personally each time a politician broke his promise to trade Westway for transit funding. In September 1985, after 12 years of urban political warfare, he exhulted in the final victory.
Paul did not, of course, see each campaign he undertook as an isolated instance of injustice. He was an articulate and passionate exponent of democratic socialism, whose deepest hope in the last few years was that the warring factions of the left would at last bury their ancient feuds. At the same time, he was an independent thinker whose response to the newest political fad was often a corrosive skepticism.
The intellectual Du Brul came by his class politics honestly. He grew up Irish in Elmhurst, the son of a laborer, and attended City University because it was tuition-free. Upon graduation he joined the furniture workers union as an organizer in the open-shop South.
Paul was a Queens kind of radical. He preferred beer to wine, John Lennon to Paul McCartney, and Robert Kennedy to Eugene McCarthy.
Because his socialist idealism was alloyed with streetwise realism, Paul could effectively goad the consciences of an array of politicians, labor leaders, and journalists (including us and others at the Voice). Once you became his friend you quickly learned he was never satisfied—a fact such figures as Robert Abrams, Mario Cuomo, and Bella Abzug came to understand the hard way. If he thought a close friend—or an employer—was deluded or lazy, he enjoyed saying so in a thunderclap of obscenity. Not everyone who knew Paul loved him. But for those whose egos could bear his withering scrutiny, the rewards of his intense loyalty were great.
Had he had assignment himself the lifelong role of political catalyst, Paul Du Brul would have been known as an outstanding newspaperman. He began his activist career as an editor of the Hunter College Arrow and later wrote superb pieces for the Voice, some of which became the basis for his collaborations with Jack Newfield on The Permanent Government. Paul was gratified when John Kenneth Galbraith, in review of the book in The New York Times, compared to Lincoln Steffens. It was the Steffens tradition of personalized muckraking that appealed to Paul’s rage. He believed in naming names.
Not long after he was awarded the Seal of the City University last September, Paul’s health deteriorated sharply. Tethered to a respirator after his last hospitalization, he continued to fight against the dependency that seemed to him and unexpected indignity. Yet even his own suffering was material for Paul’s brave black humor.
During the last two years, Paul was confined to his apartment. Friends came to him for advice and counsel, to look in awe at him and his wife Liza, and to recognize that their own problems were really manageable.
What Paul wanted most was that the caring shown him by his friends would, when he passed away, be given to his beloved, courageous son Sascha. There is a story about his father that became Sascha’s favorite. When The Permanent Government was published 10 years ago, the publicist Howard Rubinstein purchased a few dozen copies for his clients whom the book excoriated and invited the authors up to his office to inscribe them.
Newfield bowed to conformity, penning bland, polite inscriptions to the likes of Stanley Friedman, Harry Hemsley, and Roy Cohn. But when he glanced over at the copies Paul was autographing, he found blistering insults and threats in every one.
To a major landlord Paul wrote: “Best wishes to a greedy parasite.”
To a real estate lawyer he wrote: “To John, who has murdered whole neighborhoods.”
To a labor consultant he wrote: “You are a social climber and a traitor to the working class.”
Paul never gave the bastards an inch, and that is one of the reasons he was loved and will be missed.
--Jon Conason & Jack Newfield
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