The first word that comes to mind as I think back on close to two decades of interaction with Priscilla Strauss is "vibrancy." It's not that her obituary in the Boston Globe was inaccurate when it mentioned that she was "very dignified," "stylish," "meticulous," "gracious" and "compassionate." All true. But they fail to convey the warmth and commitment to the community that epitomized everything Priscilla did.
I got to know Priscilla in the early 1960s when I assumed the position of Public Relations Director and Assistant Director of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) of Greater Boston. Even though she held no official position with the Women's Division at that time—though she eventually became the youngest woman ever to be elected its President—she remained deeply involved in its activities. She knew who to talk to and how to motivate people.
But Priscilla played a unique role at CJP that went far beyond the Women's Division. I'm not sure whether or not she was being paid, but she became an active member of the staff for many years. Her title? It didn't matter. She went where she was needed. Many times a day, she came to the mail room to help address and stuff envelopes. It was a rare major event when she did not help arrange the seating. Her insight into whom would be comfortable sitting with whom was invaluable.
She would participate in staff meetings where her sage advice was always welcome. I remember one incident when the campaign director was criticizing the staff for a few things that he felt went wrong at a major event. "Can't you say thank you before you criticize?" she asked in her quiet voice. The whole tone of that meeting immediately changed. No one else would have dared to challenge him in that way.
She bridged the gap between being a "rich lay leader" and a member of the professional staff with complete ease. It was not only her style, but the fact that everybody recognized her complete commitment to the Jewish community as well as to the community at large. That commitment had its roots in her family history. One of her grandfathers was involved in securing affidavits for German Jews who needed such papers in order to flee Nazi Germany in the early 1930s.
It was obvious that there was money in the family, but she never talked about it. At the same time, she was unusually open about the tragedy that she experienced when their son Randy was fatally struck by a street car as he was running to catch the train. Priscilla was open about her loss. She acknowledged it frequently and then added, "we've got to go on."
Indeed, she did go on. Whether in tennis or gardening or stamp collecting or continued involvement in the community, she remained committed and an exemplary role model for all who knew her.