Saying Goodbye to Dan: 'The World Is A Better Place Because He Was In It'

Belmont's Beth El Temple overwhelmed with friends and family to honor Dan Scharfman with prayers and puns.

Before the heartbroken congregation was a plain, wooden casket – unadorned – a simple monument for a man who touched so many lives across a vast spectrum of the world.

On the coldest day of the winter with the brilliant winter light illuminating the stained glass windows surrounding the sanctuary of Belmont's Beth El Temple Center, it was a day of sorrow and tears for the family and a community that knew Dan Scharfman.

So many came that the wall between the sanctuary and auditorium was opened, allowing the temple to be overwhelmed with hundreds of family, colleagues, friends and acquaintances to acknowledge Scharfman's special but all too brief life.

"Astounding as it may seem, Dan worried about his legacy, about whether he made any difference in the world. Surely this gathering here is the answer to that question," said his college roommate and life-long friend, Richard Richmond. 

Scharfman died Monday night from complications of a massive heart attack he suffered six days before in the early morning hours of Jan. 15.

The first-term Belmont School Committee member was 55.

Rabbi Jonathan Kraus noted at the beginning of the service that Scharfman's life "overflowed with generosity and passion, a life defined by tremendous dedication to the people and causes which he believed, a life energized by intelligence, great personal worth and, yes, also a string of unbelievably corny jokes."

Scharfman's colleagues from business – Scharfman was an IT consultant to non-profit organizations for Baird Associates for nearly 30 years – and town government illustrated his commitment to worthy goals and high ideals all the while infusing them with a dose of humor and humanity.

Beth Ann Strollo, the executive director of the Quincy Community Action Program, said Scharfman was dedicated to assisting non-profit organizations – going so far as holding training sessions at his School Street home – rather than working at high tech companies for more money because he believed in the work being done, helping them always "with patience, humility and with a smile on his face." 

His friend Laurie Graham, School Committee's chairwoman, said the greatest tribute the community and his friends could do to honor Scharfman is to follow in his footsteps in asking the challenging question as he would, by "asking ourselves as individuals and a community: what do we care about, how can we do better."

Richmond, who first met Scharfman as freshmen at Brown University in 1975, spoke of a young man with "an odd collection of eccentricities," ranging from knowing and singing loudly every song he ever learned, writing perfectly constructed sonnets using the name of women he was flirting with – "they were always atrocious" – and consuming large amounts of peanut butter. 

"He had this ability to lay bare what was best in people and loved them for it and so in the process teach them to love themselves," said Richmond. "He taught me that and I am a better man for that."

Richmond once told Scharfman that he could have been a great teacher if he sought that path.

"I see now that I have my verbs all wrong. He was a great teacher and we, here, his students ... and the world is a better place because he was in it," he said.

Scharfman's brother, Paul Scharfman, referenced the day "life changed" when their mother died when Dan was 12 as the beginning of the transformation of a young man who "grew up fast."

"I remember his decision to be a better person," becoming an outstanding wilderness trekker and an elite runner. But it was during a college trip to Calcutta, India where Scharfman found a woman dying in the street and sang to her as she passed.

That incident was the catharsis moment when Dan "pledg[ed] to be the gentle giving man he became."

"He listened because he heard," said Paul. 

His wife, Merle Kummer, spoke of the daily conversation of topics and ideas she and Dan would have each morning.

“Honor Dan by carrying on these types of conversations with each other. We will have a better world for it.”

Scharfman's son Jacob, who is attending his father's alma mater, read from the 24th canto of Dante's Inferno, which Dan was reading the night before he was stricken.

Jacob's father was, like Virgil in Dante's great work, a guide to all who knew him. "My dad's loving, humble greatness brings us to greatness and his legacy will endure." 

Scharfman's daughter, Rachel, said she could speak volumes about his life, "but why state what we already know; never was there a man more loved who touched our lives and not because this is his eulogy but that it is true."  

Rachel then quoted one of her father's voluminous collection of bad puns:

"Did you hear the one about the man who ran over himself?"

"Well, no one else would go to the store so he ran over himself," she recalled, then honoring a request by Scharfman who asked that Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech be read at his funeral service.

Despite the day's paralyzing bitterness, a long line of vehicles accompanied the hearse and family to Highland Meadow Cemetery for the burial, where, his son noted, Scharfman will rest before two great rough-hewed boulders, like the rocks and stone formations he had long admired in life, which resembles "a foundational touchstone" that was his father. 

Marsha Knoll January 25, 2013 at 06:37 PM
Franklin, thank you!
Susan Danseyar January 28, 2013 at 05:37 PM
Beautiful job, Franklin. Rest in Peace, Dan.
Melinda Ballou February 13, 2013 at 02:49 AM
lovely tribute


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