By Judge Damon J. Keith
THE DETROIT FREE PRESS, April 22, 2015
Al was never silent, and his actions spoke loudly whenever I asked him for help.
I don’t know between friendship and love, how all that works together, but I do know this: It’s something special when you have someone as a friend that you truly love.
That’s how Alfred Taubman and I felt about each other. We could say anything to each other. I could ask him anything and get a straight answer.
I could always depend on him, and he could always depend on me.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used to say that in a time of crisis, it wasn’t so much what his enemies were saying or doing that concerned him, but rather the silence of his friends.
Al was never silent, and his actions spoke loudly whenever I asked him for help. When Rosa Parks needed a safe place to live, Al found a place for her.
When she was fragile and couldn’t fly to Montgomery for the museum opening in her honor, Al lent his private plane to get her there.
When I was chairing the U.S. Bicentennial for the federal judiciary and the Interlochen Arts Academy Band had a chance to play “Stars and Stripes Forever” at a celebration before Chief Justice Warren Burger, Al just said: “Bus them in, put them in a hotel – I’ll take care of it.”
Those kinds of things are the measure of a man. He didn’t have to do any of that, or any of the acts of kindness and concern that marked his life.
We were friends for many years — 40 or more. I called him Jan. 31 on his 91st birthday, as I called him every Jan. 31, and he said, “Damon, you never forget to call.” I said, “Neither do you, Al.”
Over the years, we worked together on education, from schools to adult literacy.
He always said that education is the key to bringing a community together.
Our families have been close for a long time. Alfred and my darling wife Rachel, who died in 2007, once co-chaired fund-raising for a new hospital at the University of Michigan. Mary Sue Coleman (former U-M president) and a group of doctors gave a thank-you party.
Rachel spoke along with Al, and he hugged her and said how much she meant to him.
Then he hugged me and he said, “Damon, I love you and Rachel. And I said, ‘You know, Al, it’s a two-way street.'”
We had an unlikely friendship, I know. We had a sense of humor about it. Al would write to me and sign his name, ‘Your Poor Friend Al.” And I would write back and sign, “Your Rich Friend Damon.”
I think what brought us together was that Al and I actually had a lot in common. He had a love for the city of Detroit.
He said to me many times, the city will never grow back unless we get people mingling together, so they can walk down the streets and aren’t afraid.
Al wanted a flourishing city.
Al and I never discussed race. It never came up. We discussed people and situations — not race and color.
Some people are good and some not so good. I’ve always had a sincere belief that everyone’s nice and upstanding until they show me otherwise. Al and I agreed on that.
He was an impeccable human being. I offered to do anything I could when he was charged in that art price-fixing. I always thought he should try to get the conviction set aside.
But he wouldn’t do it. He was convinced that he hadn’t done anything wrong, but he believed in the American justice system although he was deeply hurt.
I was glad to be a character witness for him. I caught hell from some of my colleagues for that.
But Al was my friend, and I testified. We had a loyalty to each other and believed in each other. Loyalty — isn’t that a wonderful word?
Alfred Taubman was loyal to this community. He leaves a legacy for philanthropy and for helping others.
The tallest tree in the forest has fallen, but his good deeds will live on.
Damon J. Keith, 92, is a federal judge and a longtime friend of A. Alfred Taubman.