Leonora "Lee" Sabatini Gorfinkel, formerly Rivers, died unexpectedly at home in Los Altos Saturday, July 22, 2000. Raised in Seneca Falls, New York, she worked for many years as a Registered Nurse at Kaiser Permanente and volunteered in many progressive political and social service organizations. She is survived by her husband Martin Gorfinkel, daughters Jan, Karen, and Donna Rivers, and grandson Abram Siegel-Rivers and granddaughters Misha Siegel-Rivers and Lia Rivers-Birt, as well as sisters Genevieve Leone (Cambridge, New York), Lorraine Janke (Cortland, New York), and Donna Palczak (Amsterdam, New York). Her fourth sister, Rosemarie Giovanetti, passed away in Seneca Falls earlier this year.
Lenny Sigel spoke at Lee's funeral, as follows (more or less):
Some people ask where we go when we die. I'm more interested in what we leave behind.
One of the things Lee left behind was my Ford heap of a car. She sold it to me when she bought her new, blue VWBug.In her characteristic generosity, she sold it to me cheap. In fact, I gave her a hard time, telling her that it cost me as much to repair as to buy the car. I had to replace a tail-light.
On the rear bumper there are two stickers that Lee put there. The first is from the National Women's Hall of Fame, in her home town, Seneca Falls, New York. The other says,Old Ladies Sewing Circle and Terrorist Society.Lee wasn't a terrorist in the conventional sense. However, she was a radical in her own way, in both her personal and political life.
With her first marriage, Lee broke racial taboos. In the early 50s, she worked to save the Rosenbergs, to defend the Hollywood Ten, and to distribute the PW. She was also—as her old friend Zelda Baron just reminded me—Queen for a Day. Of course, she wasQueena whole lot longer.
With her second husband, Martin, she protested the Vietnam War. It was in the late 60s that she survived the first of several elections lost by family members. I first met her when my friends and I were chasing police around Stanford and Palo Alto. She always brought her medic kit to demonstrations. In fact, I'll bet that same medic kit is sitting, at the ready, in the trunk of her VW. [Martin:It is.] Yes, it is.
She fought constantly for civil rights, women's rights, peace, and social justice. She escorted clients at the family planning clinic and volunteered at the battered women's shelter. And Lee and Martin were always there registering Democratic voters—in front of Chasuk's or wherever. No matter how gloomy the political climate or oppressive the heat, they could be counted on.
So, maybe what Lee really left behind was a message of hope, that each of us, in our own way, can make a better world. There was a saying she always told my kids, and I just thought of it as a joke for children, but it really embodied Lee's lesson for all of us. It was,Every little bit helps, said the lady as she peed in the lake.
Lenny Siegel, personal communication.