Gert Guttmann . . . a generous soul, always a gentleman
In 1995 I asked Gert for some advice. I was planning to rebuild our house and I asked him how I should choose an architect, what should I be looking for. His answer was precise and to the point. “Look for chemistry. The rest will follow.” So, when I heard Sheli’s moving eulogy where she mentioned that he had 600 buildings to his credit I thought “This was a man with a lot of chemistry”. Needless to say, the ability to work with clients, to enable their visions to become a reality, his professionalism and skills were all part of Gert’s expertise. I will not devote this space to his architectural prize-winning accomplishments for, in truth, that is far from my area of expertise. I would like to turn, instead, toward a different side of Gert.
I can’t remember for how many years the ESRA office ran from a 4x2 meter office in Merle and Gert’s home in 3 Hasadot Street, Kfar Shmaryahu. Cheryl Liebson, myself and at least two volunteers would be there each day from 8.30 often staying well in to the evening, going in to the kitchen to make coffee or lunch, making ourselves at home and feeling very welcomed. In hindsight, it was more like an invasion by ESRA on Gert’s privacy, his world, his home. As new committees formed or more volunteers were recruited to cope with the increased activity so did our control and expansion of our regime over the house as we commandeered two bedrooms, the lounge, TV area and even one of the bathrooms where the late Hannah Symon would prepare the banking by putting a board across the bath to make a makeshift desk. All this happened with Gert’s blessing and support. It was more than evident that his support for Merle’s work, for ESRA and for the many people involved was given with enormous generosity, good will and endless patience. It didn’t stop there as he was not only an effective sounding board and advisor for Merle but for us too. Always addressing us with respect (as Israeli’s say – at eye level) he shared his experience, common sense and acquired wisdom. Together with Merle, the house and garden hosted a multitude of ESRA events from evenings celebrating the sterling work of volunteers to fundraisers. Gert schlepped tables, chairs and more with the rest of us. Their home was more like a community center! Few truly know nor appreciate the extent of Gert’s generosity for so many years. Even when we had outgrown their home, it was Gert who designed the 88 square meter hut with an asbestos roof in Gan Rashel into viable offices for ESRA albeit with a tin roof.
As a bystander the partnership of Merle and Gert was inspiring to see. Supportive, tolerant and patient are the key words that pop to mind. Perhaps it’s not by chance that they shared a passion for tennis. Tennis is a game where respect for one’s partner and opponents are paramount. The game itself demands strategy, good communication, discipline, energy, empathy and skill. Doubles partners develop over time the ability to anticipate, complement and respond to each other’s behavior and, as in the game, so it was between Merle and Gert for 59 years.
Gert, a generous soul, always a gentleman, will be missed by many.
‘A pillar of calm strength, an accomplished professional’
Mine is a vivid picture of more than simply a loving, caring husband, father, grandfather, uncle and brother but also of a beloved friend to us all.
You were the very essence of the Kipling “Man”: A pillar of calm strength, self-assured, and an accomplished professional. My father as a quantity surveyor was not generally forthcoming in his praise of architects. You were one of the very few exceptions. He considered your home on Derech HaSadot, Kfar Shmaryahu, a truly remarkable synergy of the aesthetic and functional. Not to say he wasn’t influenced by the charming guided tour he and my mom received from the then 4-year-old, Yehudit, but he was, of course, right on the mark.
As a man of high moral standards and unwavering integrity, who better than you to have taught Professional Ethics to architectural students at the Technion in the early years of your aliyah.
With all that, we reflect today on the warm, sensitive and generous patriarch you came to represent in the extended Baron family. And you were also oh-so kind – your kindness reflected nowhere better than the amazing way you cared for our mother-in-law, Rachel, In her declining years.
We admired, respected and loved you. You loved us in return. Rest in peace, brother. You leave us with wonderful and cherished memories. Our lives are the better for your having been part of them.
Gert Guttmann . . . by his daughters
We were privileged to be your daughters, Guttmann.
You used to tell us that your dream came true: having only girls.
Dad, you were a big man, wise and impressive with bright eyes and strong warm hands that embraced us with love and compassion. Always well dressed, with braces and a bow tie. Always in a good mood and happy to see us.
We were blessed having an amazing father for over 50 years!
A family man
Dad was a family man who gave us unconditional warmth and love. He made sure we knew how much he loved each one of us. Although he ran his architectural office and was tied to his work, he gave us, his daughters, top priority. When we called him at his office he would put everything aside and listen to us. No matter what – we knew he would be home by six o'clock; sit relaxed in his armchair and be totally there for us and for his beloved dogs! We hardly heard criticism or accusations. Pure love.
When Grandma Rachie Baron, Merle's mother, had dementia, Dad looked after her as if he were her son. He would bring her to our home in her wheelchair every Friday evening for our family Shabbat dinner, and treat her with great sensitivity and humor and he taught us to do the same.
Also of his young sister Lisa he took good care. She lived with us in Israel for a few years till she moved to London. He would bring Lisa and her two daughters, Maria and Ruth, whom she raised alone, to visit us often in Israel.
And last but not least he loved deeply and highly respected Mom. He always supported her in any possible way and mainly in her volunteering and life project ESRA. He used to say that women are strong and have to be given the stage. Our parents love and amazing relationship were always apparent to all and was given top priority. They would go for long and romantic vacations abroad in exotic locations. Their true love was obvious even to us as young girls and needless to say during his last painful years.
The architect . . . Gert Guttmann at work on a project in his office
A courageous man
Dad was a courageous man who inspired people around him and gave them confidence, trust and support. He was a pillar for us woman, supportive, strong, stable and encouraging.
He was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, on the contrary, he was born to a family who had fled from Nazi Germany, escaped Europe and started life once again in South Africa and then in Israel. He worked hard and achieved everything with his own two hands and brain. He was proud of providing and supporting us so well. We knew that if we stumbled, there is a very supportive home behind us. He radiated calmness and serenity but at the same time, he knew how to fight for his rights when necessary. He was not afraid to fight for what he believed in and it was difficult to sell him what he used to call 'lokshen' (stories in Yiddish).
A man of values
Thanks to Dad, we all highly value hard work, effort and independence. Dad was a real Yekke in the full sense of the word. Order and organization were basic. He had clear rules and boundaries and we always knew what to expect and how to rebel. Dad believed in hard work and would say, "There is no such thing as you cannot do something, only you do not want to". Dad believed in not spoiling us too much. He never gave us leeway just for being girls. Sports, education and knowledge were very important to him and he was supportive in that.
A man of pleasure and leisure
Dad enjoyed life and gave a personal example of living life to its fullest. He was one of the firsts to admire chefs' restaurants when they began to appear in Tel Aviv and we had the luck to join him on our birthdays. Keren Restaurant in Ibn Gvirol (together with Chef Chaim Cohen) was his favorite and they catered for Sheli and Lior's wedding in our home in Kfar Shmaryahu.
On Saturdays, Dad used to drive his large Volvo station wagon and we would go on picnics. On the way, we would stop to inspect various buildings of Dad, while they were being built. We were fortunate to go on special vacations abroad, which included architectural tours of buildings of world famous architects, tennis tournament in Wimbledon, ski in Club Med and safari in Africa and many more.
Dad was first and foremost an architect who used to say that he was fortunate that his work was his hobby. He planned and designed over 600 buildings, mainly public buildings that glorify the country and make us proud.
There are no words to describe the beauty in which we grew up in our home at 3 Derech Hasadot in Kfar Shmaryahu, which he joked and called 3 Derech Hashedot (meaning the 3 devils, which we no doubt were). Every person who ever visited our home remembers the unique, different and amazing modern house, even decades later. Unfortunately, the buyer tore down this architectural creation, which was of course hard for us to absorb. However, amazingly Dad said we have to go forwards in life and not to be attached and tied to the building.
The house was built over 50 years ago. It was an architectural masterpiece in a modern, minimalistic and brutalist style. The ceiling was of exposed concrete, the outer walls were of recycled eolianite (Kurkar) stone, the interior of the house was made of Hebron stone, glass, wood and aluminum. The outside and the inside merged beautifully filling the space with gardens and natural light. Everything was of good taste, modern and full of deep understanding of human needs. There was emphasis on privacy and natural materials which were chosen since they wear well and are easy for maintenance.
Dad really loved planning public buildings mainly for the endless challenges involved. Beth Protea for older people was one of his favorites, planning for and working with his own community. He also planned our private homes – Sheli and Yehudit - with great love and endless investment of time, concern and talent, looking into every detail and personally involved in every step from selecting the plot, planning, through choosing materials and supervision.
Mandy and Yehudit chose to follow his professional footsteps and both work in the field of design and architecture. We loved working and consulting with him, and getting his wise and experienced advice. We learned so much from him; he was our best teacher, had exceptional 3D vision and in seconds knew the right solution to any architectural challenge. We always admired his endless patience for clients even those who were not easy. He simply liked people.
A guy of tennis
Our father played competitive tennis every weekend in the Kfar Shmaryahu league, which he initiated, and in later years he played with Mom too who shared the same passion. We all learned tennis, watched tennis matches and lived tennis. Luckily, Yehudit succeeded in bringing some pride with her prizes as a teen player. Dad and Mom were also one of the initial donors in Israel of the first tennis center in Ramat Hasharon. They leisurely went together to watch all the grand slams across the globe: Wimbledon, Roland Garros, US Open and the Australia Open.
A brilliant man
Dad was of a different generation. In those days, brilliant students skipped classes. Dad skipped three half classes and started college at a very early age. He had an amazing general knowledge, a sense of humor and curiosity.
Our home was full of encyclopedias both in English and Hebrew and we had no need to go to a library to do homework, ours was at home. Friends would come over to study with us. Dad especially liked his Encyclopedia Britannica and the Judaica, which we opened frequently, even during Friday night dinners any time an unknown topic would arise. Dad was interested in everything, read endlessly, from books to magazines, newspapers even the “yellow press” and especially loved biographies. He was familiar with gossip on friends and celebrities and when we would confront him that this is gossip he would say, “It is interest in people”.
Dad won the age of 84
In recent years, as his health deteriorated as he suffered from Alzheimer's, we began a new and different journey together. Thanks to Mom, we began projects with him to summarize, document and conclude his professional and personal life. We adapted their small Tel Aviv apartment so Dad could spend his time there comfortably. Although Dad planned several old age homes, he preferred living with Mom at home. We made a film about his life recording his stories and touring his buildings. We held a closing ceremony of his beloved office together with all his children and grandchildren. He was so proud of his work and it was not easy for him to close his office.
Dad ended his life surrounded by his close family who loved him so much, including his brother Leslie from South Africa who was here for him at his very last breath.
We will miss you so much Daddy.
Mandy, Sheli and Yehudit
Gert Guttmann . . . By his grandkids
Dearest Saba Gert,
Yesterday we all sat together and tried to gather some of our special memories with you. We left the stories anonymous, but most of them we all share.
Immediately we all remembered your small and odd habits, like you used to pull our fingers until they clicked, a habit that most of us inherited and still use with our partners. How you brought Marmite into our lives, that its smell kept our friends far from us even at first grade. The chocolate Merle needed to hide from you for years. We also remembered funny events, such as the time we flew from South Africa to Zimbabwe on a small jet. And the steward asked you to move to the other side of the plane to keep it balanced. Nadav remembered that when he was small he used to love feeling ear lobes, but yours' were always too hairy for him.
We all remember Saba as a person with extraordinary knowledge, who was capable of telling a story with amazing accuracy and to remember every detail. Next to every impressive building you used to stop and tell us who is the architect, on every road you used to tell us after whom it was named. Until this day every special building makes us think of you Saba.
As someone who loved sport so much, you brought it into our lives as well. During the summer, on “Guttmann camps”- as we all used to call them and enjoyed so much - you opened each morning with a swim, and we used to sit by the pool fascinated and trying to guess when would you go up from underwater swimming to breath. You used to play tennis with us and never let us win. You took a slow and big step, and make us run all over the court, although we had 60 years' advantage over you. We remembered how every family trip abroad you used to take a grandchild as a project, and taught him to swim, and when we all learnt - you thought we also needed to learn front crawl.
We can never forget the glorious dinners in Kfar Shmaryahu, when Merle used to cook amazing food and Saba used to “engineer” the table arrangements for hours until everything was perfect. The kumquat picking once in every month when the patio was starting to get messy, and the amazing jam that came afterwards which you spent hours making.
During the last few years some of those things disappeared slowly, but came back in flashes. On Merle's 80th birthday when you could hardly walk, you started playing Ping Pong all of a sudden, you kept planning buildings, and you never gave up on chocolate - and all the time reminding us that you are still there.
We will miss you a lot,
Omer, Nimrod, Nadav, Lyle, Ben, Hagar, Liah, Yahly and Alma