Of my three best friends, Mark Widoff is most difficult to describe. Mark is the ultimate defender of those who have little to recommend them or have no other place to turn. I am not sure how a scion of the Widoff’s Bakery fortune in Worcester, Mass. got that way, but that’s the way he is.
Yes, he was in the Peace Corps( where he met his future wife Janet) in the Dominican Republic. His public vita is peppered with positions of authority and responsibility. His wonderful education background at Clark University and at Harvard Law, made him someone whose entry into state government a natural. He was a Deputy Attorney General, Executive Assistant to the Secretary of Education, the Consumer Advocate ( in which position he attracted may future well known folks into state government), private practice, and General Counsel to the Pennsylvania State Education ( teacher’s union) for seventeen years.
Those are his professional credentials. His personal qualifications go way beyond that. If you look at this actual jobs, he litigated employment discrimination, litigated against rate increases for utilities, defended employees in their altercations with management, responded to citizen’s complaints in the areas of health, education, welfare, housing, civil rights, and many other things. When someone is in trouble Mark Widoff is there to help.
He does not defend the large corporations, wealthy people, powerful people or those in control. He defends those who need his help. He is still doing it right now as you read this tome. He sold his residence the Harrisburg area to move to Austin ( to be near his grandchildren) and is presently serving, gratis, for the Texas Legal Services to people who need legal help.
He is one of the founders of the Keystone Research Center, a progressive think tank ( the other founder is Bill Hughes), an early supporter of the political reform group called Democracy Rising, and has joined similar organizations in Austin. He is also active in an interfaith group in Pennsylvania.
Mark is the reason that Carol and I moved to Harrisburg and joined the synagogue to which we now belong. In the 19 years that we have been here, Mark and I have collarborated on a number of issues, including the equity suit. He has been my advisor, my advocate and sometimes my fiercest opponent. There are issues on which we do not agree. That should not surprise anyone who knows both of us. We are both passionate about certain subjects and we both don’t give an inch. In fact, our disagreements can lead to illumination for both of us.Even though Bill Hughes and Mark worked together at the PSEA headquarters,they did not communicate with each other very well. Mark had a hard time understanding Bill’s hyperbolic colloquy’s. He would shake his head and walk off.
Mark and I talked about this at length a number of years ago. I explained to Mark that Bill was one of the smartest people that I knew. His thinking methods were completely different than Marks. Mark is more a logical sequential and Bill makes many associations and throws them up against the wall to see how and whether they would stick. To take everything single thing Bill said and line it up in a coherent way could drive someone to distraction. That is not to say that Bill could not logic his way through a problem, but his thinking mechanisms were on the opposite side of the spectrum form Marks.
Mark was delighted at the explanation and immediately saw how it would work. He and Bill became much closer and today we all go on a yearly golf outing at some far off place in the United States ( along with my daughter-in-law’s father Al Collini) and spend time making great sport of each other (mostly Mark). That is one of the few times that I go golfing during the year. We really go to take advantage of good restaurants and gaming establishments. Mark is not a gambling person and never goes in.
Mark is someone who concentrates on a problem to the distraction of all else. One evening in the Spring, I got a call from Mark’s cell phone. He was driving down to the Delaware shore. It was his time to think about some things and needed to speak to me about them. During the middle of the conversation, Mark appeared to go way off topic and start another conversation that went like this. “ O.K., I am pulling over. Yes officer, I have my license, registration and insurance card. No I did not know that at all. I do look at the signs as I am going by, but I never saw them. Yes, I will be careful next time. Thanks so much for your consideration.”
Without so much as a hesitation in his voice Mark continued on with his conversation with me. I interrupted him to aks what was going on. “Oh, a policeman just stopped to ask if I had seen some signs down the road that told me to slow down because this was a work area. “ That was all that he said and the conversation went on for the next fifteen minutes.
That’s Mark. He is always involved. He is always concerned about our state, its people and our country. No, he does not wear an American Flag lapel pin when he is defending the rights of our citizens.However, I see him as more of a pro American person than most anyone who claims to be a patriot.