A former Cedarhurst resident who grew up in Brooklyn and saw a famous New York City mayor release his mother from jail, then raised himself out of bankruptcy to become a state assemblyman, died in Chiangmai, Thailand of pneumonia and kidney failure on May 10. Edward Abramson was 91.
Abramson served in the Assembly from 1973 to 1991. He was also his party’s majority whip. He was born on Sept. 21, 1920 in Manhattan to Charles and Mollie Abramson.
During the Great Depression, Abramson sold newspapers every evening in downtown Brooklyn with his mother, sister, Evelyn, and brother, Irving. Charles Abramson had left the family.
“On Mother’s Day in 1935, his struggling family’s fortunes took a sudden turn for the worse, when Mollie was arrested and jailed for the ‘crime ‘ of selling newspapers at curbside,” Larry Abramson wrote in an email detailing his father’s life. Larry, formerly a lawyer in New York, is a translator in Thailand.
Through the help of a benevolent NY Daily news reporter, the Abramsons found themselves in front of Mayor Fiorella La Guardia. “The Little Flower,” as the mayor was known due to his first name that translates to little flower in Italian, heard the family’s story and ordered Mollie released. A few days later, the mayor pushed the Board of Aldermen to create licenses for curbside newspaper dealers. Mollie received the first one issued.
“This episode imbued Eddie with a strong sense that government could be used to fight injustices in society on a person by person basis,” Larry said. “He would bring this strong conviction to his later career as a full-time assemblyman, where he eschewed the headlines, and instead concentrated on serving his constituents on an individual basis.”
He graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn. A couple of years later, Abramson was one of three members of the S-3 unit of the Army’s 399th Regiment of the 100th Division during World War II. The unit was a prime target for the German forces as it coordinated the movement and communication for the entire regiment.
There were several close calls, including one morning at the Battle of the Bulge, when an unexploded 88 millimeter shell landed by them. Escaping unscathed, Abramson also served in Stuttgart, Germany during the occupation. A story he always told began at Kol Nidre services on Yom Kippur in 1945, when Abramson met a woman who thought her sister had died, along with many of her family members. She told him that her sister had lived in Paris before the war.
“Eddie spent his much-valued three-day leave in Paris to track down the sister,” Larry said. “On the last day, after many dead ends, he found her and gave her news that her sister had survived the Holocaust. When they turned around, Eddie was already gone. He used to joke that they must have thought they met Elijah the prophet disguised as a G.I.”
Awarded the Bronze Star and several other citations, Abramson returned to support his family. He met Gloria Schwartz of Brooklyn and they were married in 1948.
Several unsuccessful business ventures with Irving left Abramson facing bankruptcy. In 1960, nearly broke and with a wife and two children to support, he took a job as a printing salesman. Success at that job helped him move his family from Brooklyn to Rochdale Village, a new housing development in southeast Queens in 1964.
Civic involvement followed as Abramson published a small local newspaper, Inside Rochdale, then served as delegate to the 1964 Democratic Convention. He was elected a district leader two years later.
Through legislative redistricting in 1972, Queens gained an assembly district, the 32nd A.D. Abramson straddled the racial divide between blacks and whites and won election. He served for 18 years and in 1985 was elected majority whip by his Democratic colleagues.
Remembering what Mayor La Guardia did for his family, Abramson tried hard to fight for his constituents. “He would ask a constituent with a problem to describe his or her situation in writing, personally interview them, and then figure out which state agency was responsible,” Larry said. “Next he would append his own letter to that of the constituent, and send them both to the head of the agency in question. This technique rarely failed to produce the desired result.”
Despite being elected nine times in a black majority district during times of racial animosity, race was used against Abramson in the 1990 Democratic primary and he lost to Vivian Cook, a black woman.
After retirement, the Abramsons moved to Cedarhurst, where their daughter Chana lived. She is now a university teacher in Israel. When his health declined, he and Gloria moved to Thailand, where Larry lives. “He became a favorite of the neighborhood and the Thai staff,” said Larry. “He will be sorely missed.”
Always community-minded, Abramson was involved in many Jewish, veteran’s, civic, educational and fraternal organizations and received hundreds of awards and certificates of recognition.
Abramson is survived by his wife, Gloria, their children Lawrence B. Abramson and Chana Cohen, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A funeral was held in Meitar, Israel on May 14.