Harry’s Obituary

Dear readers, this is Mary Ann Wittenberg, Harry’s wife. There may be a few readers out there that do not know that Harry lost his battle with ALS on October 16th, 2020. Today at his one year anniversary I would like to post a beautiful obituary written by his good friend Chris Mead. On behalf of myself and the family, we want to thank you for following Harry’s blog, for providing him with inspiration and support during his journey and for being there for his family. Please take a moment to think of him today and enjoy a Manhattan in his honor.

Harry Wittenberg

July 17,1955 – October 16, 2020

Harry departed peacefully after a three year struggle with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  He died at home surrounded by family and friends, blanketed in love, as befits a man who loved so well and so long.

Harry was born in the center of the known universe, Brooklyn, New York, to Edna and David Wittenberg, Holocaust survivors who immigrated to the US after WW II.  Raised in a home rooted in Judaism, Harry attended Yeshiva, until his teens when he insisted on attending public school, ultimately graduating from Brooklyn’s Midwood High School in 1973.  He then attended Brooklyn College to become a special education teacher and earned a graduate degree from Columbia University in instructional design.

During these early years, Harry’s lifelong commitment to helping the most vulnerable in society was evident in his work with the developmentally disabled at the Willowbrook facility and Camp Lymelight, where Harry started friendships that lasted his whole life. Harry never lost a friend, he just introduced his friends to each other, and made the group bigger. To Harry, friends were family.

Harry moved to California in 1981, where he met the love of his life, Mary Ann Staffieri when they were both teaching for Oakland Public Schools.  They married in 1985 and became parents to Max, of Truckee, California, Lucia of Washington, D.C. and Ethan, of Oakland, California.  Harry was incredibly proud of his children’s resilience, creativity and commitment to social justice.  When he left the classroom he entered private industry, always remaining a life-long teacher, working in organizational development and training at Apple, Schwab, Genentech and Autodesk. His greatest achievement being able to help people bridge differences and begin to work cooperatively.

Harry was a person with many interests and gave freely of his time to others. He built his own basses and co-founded the Bay Bridge Beat funk band.  He was a regular on charitable events like the Waves to Wine MS ride , the Aids Ride down the coast of California or the ALS walk where he was the top individual fund raiser last year. Harry traveled extensively and with purpose, seeking out experiences with locals to learn from and develop friendships with. He started the Men’s Weekend ski trip to Yosemite , which he organized and led for more than 30 years, involving a rotating crew of musicians, cross country and downhill skiers, good food, hot tubbing , cigars  and, depending on his mood, his special Martinis with a bit of orange water, or a Manhattan.  The Men’s Weekend creed, which Harry coined, was “Start slow and taper off.”

Always anchored by his Jewish values, Harry and Mary Ann hosted an annual “Blues Seder’ involving music, sunglasses, humor, a crowd of persons of different faiths and Harrys’ narration, grounded in the obligation to make the world a better place, and to care for those less fortunate than themselves.  Harry and Mary Ann were members of Congregation B’nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek, where Harry served as President, held various committee and board positions and founded the house band, the Tikvah Tones. Harry also served on the board of Holden High School in Orinda and the Contra Costa Interfaith Council.

Life for Harry was a teachable moment.  In January 2018, after he started having trouble walking, Harry was diagnosed with ALS, but he and Mary Ann looked forward.  They moved from their hillside home in Orinda to a one story ranch in Walnut Creek, which they remodeled to accommodate Harry’s increasing mobility limitations.  In January 2019, Harry realized a lifelong dream of traveling to Cuba with 5 other couples, meeting the Cuban people, listening to music, talking baseball with locals, smoking good cigars and meeting several Jewish congregations to talk about Jewish life in Cuba.

As his mobility decreased, Harry learned to use eye gaze technology to drive his wheelchair and blog on his continued zest for life.  He composed his own eulogy, writing “Because of my condition, I feel a sense of urgency to remind others that life can change on a dime.  Living one’s life should not be put off until one’s schedule allows for it…. We should all live our fullest purpose and joy…. Spend time with loved ones as much as possible.  Do things that make you feel food and accomplished.  Be political because it really matters.  Don’t be hard on yourself, you’re doing the best you can.  Do the things you want to do.  Why? Because you are an adult and you can.  Keep me in your hearts because I keep you in mine.”  Harry’s blog is published in book form, entitled Out of Control: Reflections on Matters of Life and Death, available on Amazon.

Harry is predeceased by his parents Edna and David Wittenberg.  In addition to his immediate family, he leaves his sister Anita Brent and brother in law Paul Brent, brother and sister-in-law Anthony and Anne Marie Staffieri, nephews David Brent, Stephen Staffieri and Matthew Staffieri, niece Karen Brent, beloved cousins in the US, Israel and Italy plus a circle of friends that spans the globe. Harry was buried in a private ceremony and a memorial will be held at a later time when allowed. The family requests memorial contributions to the Golden West Chapter of the ALS Association

It has been said that no one ever had anything bad or unflattering to say about Harry.  That is not entirely true, as even Harry would admit he never understood the infield fly rule.  Other than that? Nada.  Harry was more that a mensch’s mensch.  He was a human being’s human being.

14 thoughts on “Harry’s Obituary

  1. How I wish Harry were still with us. I always loved working with him at Genentech, but really came to appreciate the deeply loving person he was when my sister was diagnosed with ALS and Harry was right there to listen to me and give me the best advice ever! He left such a big legacy of love and learning and I was blessed to know him. I want to thank his best friend in life too, Mary Ann, for all her support and love as she continued to reach out to me about my sister, Margaret after Harry died. God Bless all the Wittenberg’s. I love you all. ♥️

    Maureen George


  2. Dearest Mary Ann, Andy & I have been thinking of you and Harry today. I was going to text you later. We love you both and miss Harry every day. Stay strong, and hope to chat soon. Thanks for sharing this. Kathy & Andy



  3. Dear Maryann, Harry was always a true mensch. I still cannot understand how one thoughtful, ethical, funny, intelligent, kind, (and a multitude of other adjectives) has left us. He made the world such a better place just by his presence.
    Barbara Nuzzi (Berger)…I knew Harry all those years ago from Camp Lymelight. There are those remarkable individuals who leave san indelible impression on your life and on the world, that was Harry. RIP Harry the Mensch


  4. Chris’ obituary really captures Harry’s spirit. We all are lucky to have a piece of Harry very much alive in our hearts along side the big hole his passing left. Thinking about him every day along with you and the kids. Big hugs 💕


  5. How can a year have passed already since Harry left? He still feels present in so many ways. Mary Ann, Max, Luchia and Ethan sending you sweetness and light on this day and the days ahead. Love, Leah


  6. Dear Mary Anne, Seems like it wasn’t that long ago that I was sitting here in CT flipping through the 450 page Encyclopedia of Jewish Humor to find a few good, mostly short, jokes to tell Harry. I could read the jokes to him but he could really tell them, adding any accent necessary to make the joke funnier. And he knew most of them. I miss my old friend and will always be grateful for the times we had together and for the paths I followed him on. Mary Anne, I do hope Ginger and I will be able to see you this coming year. Our love to you and the”kids.”
    David and Ginger


  7. Thank you Mary Ann. Wonderful words to live by.

    Helen and Patrick Bauer Three Rivers, CA

    On Sat, Oct 16, 2021 at 1:15 PM Welcome to my world wrote:

    > wittenb1 posted: ” Dear readers, this is Mary Ann Wittenberg, Harry’s > wife. There may be a few readers out there that do not know that Harry lost > his battle with ALS on October 16th, 2020. Today at his one year > anniversary I would like to post a beautiful obituary writte” >


  8. Mary Ann, perfect timing. After I stopped crying I made myself a Manhattan, which I am drinking with Harry. My life is so much richer because Harry invited me into his, and yours. Much love, Chris


  9. Thank you Mary Ann for sharing again these beautiful words which so capture the incredible way in which Harry touched so many lives. I had ordered a copy of Harry’s amazing book “Out of Control” last year at this time and have had the opportunity to share it with others for whom it has brought great comfort. Harry continues to be an ongoing force for love and healing in this world. Sending love to you and your family.


  10. Cara MaryAnn,tuo marito henry era una brava e bella persona sono felice di averlo conosciuto puoi essere fiera di lui.
    Egli Riposa in pace e veglia su di noi.


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