Paul Soifer died Tuesday in his Pacific Grove, California home. He was not a writer or critic, but he is a person literature will miss. He was a collector of words. First editions, original manuscripts, letters, the thoughts and feelings behind them, were his passion.
The collectors are never given enough credit. They are trustees of whatever they collect, be it literature or art or cultural icons as trivial as bottle caps.
There was nothing trivial about Paul.
He appreciated many writers, foreomost among them John Steinbeck, partially because Steinbeck spoke to him and partially because Paul spent the last few decades of his life in ``Steinbeck Country,'' California's Monterey County and the Monterey Peninsula.
The town he lived in, Pacific Grove, is where Steinbeck wrote ``Of Mice and Men'' and planned and likely wrote part of ``The Grapes of Wrath.''
In nearby New Monterey, down an avenue called Lighthouse, a half dozen gritty used book shops carried first and rare editions – a few of the shops were there in Steinbeck's day, many in Paul's. Paul haunted them over the years for the literature, the friendships, the laughter and the philosophizing.
Most of those shops and their literature-loving owners, Ron Marek and Richard Gates among them, are gone. Marek and Gates died running their businesses.People don't usually voluntarily retire from their passions.
Neither did Paul. He kept his enthusiasim and love of the chase to the end.
Paul was a successful banker and financier when, some twenty-five years ago, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and the outlook was dark. Hardly a person to indulge in self-pity, Paul formed and headed a prostate cancer support group at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula that became a model for others around the state and country.
But the cancer changed everything. Words, art and cultural touchstones assumed greater importance, passions he shared with his wife Pat, a teacher of art, docent at the Carmel Mission, a ukulele player and a student of Native-American cultures.
Paul's new passion and enthusiasm, along with medical science of course, seemed to hold off the cancer and despite occasional setbacks he would recover and, when he wasn't helping other men deal with their cancer fears, soon be on the trail again of that elusive first edition, whether it be Steinbeck, Hemingway, Cather or Jeffers.
It is the dealers and collectors such as Paul who rescue the rare signed edition or original manuscript or enlightening letter from the scrap heap.
I benfitted from Paul's discoveries as well as his friendship, conversation, warmth and deeper understanding of Steinbeck's greatness.
Paul brought me first editions, rare paperbacks, intriguing letters – Steinbeck, for instance, writing on legal yellow lined paper about his talking myna bird John L to film director Fred Zinneman – even an LP recording of Steinbeck reading his short stories.
Paul, excited, showed up once with a magazine advertisement of Steinbeck pushing Ballantine Ale. The great writer apparently wrote the copy, echoing ``Of Mice and Men.''
Paul read and laughed at the lines ``The sun is straight overhead. There isn't enough shade to fit under a dog . . . your throat aches and your lips are cracking . . . but inside you're as dry as the Los Angeles River.''
That's another thing about Paul I will miss – his laughter.
Causes Steve Hauk Supports
City of Pacific Grove Public Library, Pacific Grove, California; Animal Friends Rescue Project, Pacific Grove; Animal Welfare Information and Assistance,...