J. Arnold Feldman, 77, human rights advocate

December 12, 2003|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

J. Arnold Feldman, who devoted much of his life to civil and human rights as a federal official and private citizen, died Monday of heart failure at Howard County General Hospital. He was 77.

The Columbia resident retired in 1994 as chief of civil rights compliance in the Washington office of the Small Business Administration, and was well-known as a human rights advocate during two decades of civic involvement in Howard County.

Mr. Feldman was born in Schenectady, N.Y., and raised in Woodbine, N.J., south of Atlantic City. While attending Millville High School near his home, he rode the train to Philadelphia to study the trombone at a music school, said his wife of 54 years, the former Aline Winetroub.

After his 1944 high school graduation, he entered the Army. Stationed in the Pacific, he co-authored a report on Hiroshima after the war, Mrs. Feldman said.

The two met in 1949 at an intercollegiate Zionist Federation conference and decided on their third date that they would later marry.

"I was going to Washington University in St. Louis, and he was going to Indiana University, and he came to see me a couple of times, and then we decided to get married," Mrs. Feldman said. "We talked about a lot of things, and we knew that we both cared [about people]. I had been trying to get Washington University to integrate blacks into the population, and he was interested in the same things."

Mrs. Feldman said her husband's passion for others stemmed from his upbringing.

"His parents were always very generous; even during the Depression when they didn't have a lot, they shared," she said. "There was a kind of purity in Arnold's ideals. He really lived what he believed, and he wasn't afraid to stand up and be counted."

The couple moved to Bethesda in 1960, shortly before the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, with whom Mr. Feldman would later pose for a picture in the Oval Office. He became executive director of the American Veterans Committee.

After 20 years, the pair moved to Iowa, where Mr. Feldman opened a district office for the Small Business Administration in Cedar Rapids. Less than two years later, they moved to Howard County, where Mr. Feldman became known as a champion of justice.

"He was a marvelous human being," said Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a former Howard County executive. "He was very intelligent, very passionate about what he believed in. He was particularly knowledgeable about human rights, especially in this country."

Ms. Bobo said she met Mr. Feldman when he moved to Columbia.

"Even though he would frequently be in public discussions with people on the other side of the issue, he always treated them with respect, and consequently he got respect in return," Ms. Bobo said.

Mr. Feldman was affiliated with numerous organizations, including the county public schools' Equity Council, the Coalition Opposed to Violence and Extremism, and the Jewish Council of Howard County.

He organized and served as co-chairman of the Howard County BLEWs, a black-Jewish dialogue group, and served as vice president of the Montgomery County Youth Symphony Association.

While in law school in Indiana, he helped draft the Indiana School Desegregation Act. After graduating, he became a labor organizer and educator for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.

Early in his federal government career, he helped draft the Fair Housing Act and Title VI of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964, his family said.

He received honors from organizations including the American Veterans Committee and B'Nai Brith Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Community Federation of Howard County and the Howard County Human Rights Commission.

Howard County Police Chief G. Wayne Livesay, who will speak at a memorial service today, said Mr. Feldman's commitment to helping others was inspiring. They met in 1992 when Mr. Feldman became a member of the police department's citizens advisory council, which meets monthly to exchange ideas and promote good relations among police and citizens.

"He came to us with a tremendous background of trying to make life better for everyone, and I mean everyone," Mr. Livesay said. "I saw him come to our meetings in such frail health on his walker, and to me that was just a sign of his dedication to improve the community."

Mrs. Feldman said she is proud of her husband's accomplishments but that it's the "little things" that she will miss most.

"His corny humor," she said. "He was always making puns. I will miss that. I will miss his presence, his smartness. He was extraordinarily intelligent."

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. today at Wilde Lake Interfaith Center at 10431 Twin Rivers Road in Columbia.

Mr. Feldman also is survived by three daughters, Dr. Lynn Feldman of Glenn Dale, Pamela Feldman-Savelsberg of St. Paul, Minn., and Rachelle Feldman of Oakland, Calif.; and two granddaughters.

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