A life remembered in music, pictures and family

Chances are if you were friends with Arthur Greenberg, or even an acquaintance, you received one of his CD mixes.

Arthur loved music and even more than that, he loved exposing friends and family to the musicians he loved, some of whom were obscure singer-songwriters and groups with names such as Gomez, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin and Kitka. For the past decade, Arthur would compile about 20 songs from artists he had cultivated over the year and create one of his famous mixes (there even is a Facebook page, “Fans of Arthur Greenberg CD Mixes,” with 132 members). Then he would hand them out before the winter holidays.

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“My annual mixes are always gifted, never sold, as part of a lifelong quest to share musical discoveries,” he wrote in the liner notes of his latest, 2009 mix.

Last Thursday, April 1, Arthur Greenberg’s life was cut short. He died suddenly, collapsing at his home in Olivette. He was 48 years old. Survivors include his wife of 20 years, Aida; two children, Lila, 16 and Levi, 14; his father, Edward Greenberg of University City; a sister, Lisa Greenberg of Clayton, six nieces and nephews and the family dog Juneau, a collie-husky mix.

“One of the many things Arthur taught me is that no dog is too big to be a lap dog,” said his sister, Lisa, as she and other family members sat around the dining room table last Saturday sharing Arthur stories.

He was born Arthur Michael Greenberg to Edward Greenberg, a retired economics professor at Washington University and the late Joan Greenberg. Arthur’s musical career officially started at the age of 5 when his parents enrolled him in Suzuki method violin – he later moved on to teaching himself the piano and guitar. He attended University City High School (Class of 1977) and graduated from Washington University in 1982. During his junior year, he received a National Endowment of the Arts grant to put together an exhibition at the university about the art of Joseph Cornell.

After a stint in graduate school at the University of California-Berkeley, Arthur tried his hand at sailing and golfing before getting a “real job” working for the City of Oakland, Calif. in the cultural arts division. When one of his closest childhood friends came to visit him in Oakland, she suggested that she and Arthur and her college roommate, Aida Eisenstat, who was also living in the Bay Area, have dinner together. They did, but neither Arthur nor Aida gave the other much thought after the meal was over.

It wasn’t until sometime later when that friend, Lynnsie Balk Kantor, invited both Arthur and Aida to her wedding in St. Louis that the relationship between the two took hold. Aida recalled on their first date Arthur suggested, before leaving his apartment, they watch a video of his nephew Sam in an infant swing. “The video was 2_ hours of Sam swinging,” joked Aida. “We only watched a little of it, but I think Arthur would have been content to watch the whole thing. He was crazy about his nephew and I knew then how much family meant to him.”

It was also on that first date when Arthur told Aida he was a failed artist at four mediums: theater, art, dance and music. But the truth was he knew so much about all four and found his calling as an arts consultant, working for the past 20 years for AMS Planning and Research, an arts management firm based in Connecticut. It was a job he loved and one that took him all over the country.

“But when he was home he never missed one of Levi’s games or Lila’s shows,” said his father, Ed. “Arthur was always there, usually taking pictures. He loved photography almost as much as he loved music.”

On Sunday, about 400 family and friends gathered at Congregation B’nai Amoona to pay tribute to a man described as a “gentle giant” and loving husband, father, son, brother, uncle, friend and colleague. He also was involved in many Jewish causes, serving on the board of trustees at B’nai Amoona and the Central Agency of Jewish Education.

At the service, Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose explained that Jewish law forbade eulogizing during certain holidays such as Passover. So he creatively turned the bima over to family and friends who wanted to speak about Arthur. It soon became clear from what everyone said that as passionate as Arthur was about music and photography, his deepest love was saved for his family. And he showed them how he felt everyday.

“My dad was my best friend,” said Lila, a sophomore at Ladue Horton Watkins High School who spoke from the bima with poise well beyond her years. She recounted how she thought she would have to miss a weekend USY convention in Boone, Iowa last April because it conflicted with a choral concert at her school. She so wanted to go to the convention, but she had to attend the concert and doing so caused her to miss the bus to Iowa. Without even asking, her dad offered to drive her through the night to the convention so she wouldn’t have to miss out. “Friends were in disbelief that my dad would drive me so far just so I could spend the weekend with a bunch of USYers,” she added. “But that was just the relationship my dad and I had. He understood me. . . He supported me 100 percent.”

Levi, an eighth grader at Ladue Middle School, stood tall next to a friend who read his words. “His connection with my friends is a perfect example of how great a father he was and a friend he was. How he always knew the answer and what was right to do. The things I am wearing today he taught me how to do – how to tie a tie, how to hang my jacket and put it on right before leaving, so that I wouldn’t get dog fur on it. . .

“He was always there for me, taking me places, taking pictures of every sports team I participated on. During every at-bat at baseball, every shot at basketball, every throw in football, I will think of my dad, the best dad in the world.”

In her tribute, Lisa Greenberg spoke of her brother’s uncanny ability to multi-task. So much so, he wouldn’t allow a pesky thing like Stage Four Hodgkins Disease, which he was diagnosed with in 2004, slow him down. He never missed a day of work during chemotherapy treatments and was considered “cured” five years later.

Losing a husband, a father, a brother and especially a child, at any age is never easy, but it is particularly difficult when the death is so sudden and the person is young. Still, it seems those who knew and loved Arthur Greenberg know that in his 48 years, he lived a full and vital life, and left behind an archive of memories chronicled in music and pictures that surely will be of comfort.

Perhaps Lila said it best when she tossed out a simple piece of advice, a vintage Arthurism, that upon reflection we all would be wise to follow: “My dad taught me that when life gets rough sometimes it’s better to relax.”