Remembering "WAMC Institution" Paul Elisha

Aug 16, 2015

He’s being remembered as an Renaissance man. We’re honoring Paul Elisha today at WAMC — a  WWII veteran, poet, professional musician and longtime voice on these airwaves who died Sunday at 92 after suffering a stroke.

"With the aggressive and all-encompassing advent of computer-driven technology, to the seeming Nth degree, in American socio-economic activity, one wonders if reliable public enlightenment is still possible, via the welter of virtual warfare, between what was once the professional informational media establishment and the so-called ‘Social Media’ horde that now threatens to obliterate it?" ~ Paul Elisha

Even in his 90s, Elisha shared outspoken cutting-edge commentary on WAMC. His daughter, Adrienne:  "He was a brilliant genius, Renaissance man, incredible commentator, profound musician, profound thinker, and an incredible person to have as a father. He gave us a wonderful sense of aesthetics and taught us to appreciate beauty in all of its forms."

Elisha was dedicated to social reform. Elisha's wife of 35 years, Jeanne, says he cared about the “have nots” of the world. He was passionate about many things.   "About his family, about music, and  politics. He was very caring and concerned about the situation in the world. It was depressing to him to see such anger and destruction. He served in World War II. He was very opposed to war. He felt that to send our young people off to be killed was not the way to help the situation in the world."

In 2010, Elisha served as grand marshal of Albany's 55th Veterans Day Parade.  A decorated combat veteran, Elisha shared one of his war stories with WAMC's Joe Donahue on a Roundtable broadcast in 2010:   "There was a Marine General H.M. Smith was his name, Holland Smith, but he was better known as 'Howlin' Mad Smith,' he really, now in retrospect I think, he wanted to be the Patton of the Pacific. I think he saw himself as that. The thing that got me about this general, was that he took too much pleasure before each invasion that he went on, he would talk to the men involved, and what he talked about, came out of the history of the marines, and in their many battles, how many men died in each battle, and I always felt that he took too much pleasure in reciting the figures, and not enough care thinking that these were human beings, and they had connections to families."

During his time as a professional musician, he played the viola in the New York City Ballet Orchestra.  Steven Elisha recalls his father's love of music.   "He had experiences of huge proportions conducting professional orchestra with the finest players, producing programs that were so colorful and exciting. His ability to command was something that I think was not just on the podium, but in life. He has ... he had such a strong personality, and whatever he said he said without mincing words. He said it like it was, and he didn't care if it offended someone or not, particularly if the truth had to be known."

WAMC's President and CEO Alan Chartock:   "Even though Paul Elisha was 92 years old, all of us here feel as if we had a shot in the solar plexus. This guy was really part of the conscience of WAMC. He came here, called me in the very beginning and asked if he could do commentary. He'd been offered a column in the Schenectady Gazette, but he said he wanted to come to WAMC because he said 'I know that I can say what I want to say there.' And I can't remember any time that he didn't.’

Elisha co-hosted WAMC's "Poetry Forum" and “Bard’s Eye View.”  He spent years working at the capitol in Albany in the role of spokesman for various agencies, among them the state Department of Mental Hygiene, the Division for Youth and the Department of Social Services. From 1983 to 1988 he served as executive director of the nonprofit New York State Common Cause.

Here's Elisha, reading from his last collection of poetry, Swash:    "Now we've taken up the estuarial quest in jest, endless amounts of data unblessed, vision blurred by avarice ethics deferred."

Funeral services are scheduled for Tuesday morning.