image description December 6, 2011

Celebrating the Life of Caren Zimmern

Celebrating the Life of Caren Zimmern

“If you don’t have flair, then to Hell with you!” – Caren Zimmern

It is with a heavy heart that I share the news of my mother’s passing. We celebrated the life of this amazing woman last Friday at a small “memorial cocktail party” in Minneapolis. As some of you know, my mother had unique and fabulous ideas about the way things should be in this life and the hereafter. The memorial cocktail party was one of them. We all wore green (her favorite color), listened to Frank Sinatra and shared stories about a woman who did everything with flair.

Caren Zimmern (or Clara Betty Heyman as some of you also might remember her) passed away the morning of October 4th, 2011. Mom is at peace and I imagine her shelling on a beach somewhere, or painting, maybe designing a carousel for Lever House, perhaps reading a great book with any of her beloved animals, or gardening in East Hampton smiling and wondering when she will have time to make a batch of her amazing gazpacho. She was delighted by everything and everyone, brilliantly caring, and magnificently kind.

She was born on March 27, 1930, to Herb and Pauline Heyman, had a younger brother Herbert Jr. and lived in Pittsburgh PA, Avon NJ and New York City. She attended Mills College, where Vic Bergeron—Trader Vic himself—taught her to cook. She was active in theater, art and became politically liberal in those years, a passion she held on to until her last days.

In 1954, she met my father Robert Zimmern and fell in love. They had a storybook wedding, and though they divorced years later, they always remained great friends. She visited him many times in Portland Maine. In a sentence, she simply adored Bob.

In 1961, they had a son, their only child. My father became successful in the advertising business, while my mother marched against the war. She taught me to read, to have social awareness in all things big and small. She taught me to love, laugh, swim, cook and be the best person I could be. I will never forget sitting on an East Hampton lawn with hundreds of other people, watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. As we gazed from the TV to the night sky and back, my mom told me, “Anything is possible, just look what you can do with your life.”

Mom juggled career goals and motherhood, bouncing around between seasonal creative jobs like the one at Lever House, and designing the windows at Bendel’s, Bergdorf Goodman and Bloomingdales. She painted and studied, tried to write a book on astrology, on shells, and turned down several proposals from some great men she dated. She was always freaked out that getting re-married might jeopardize the stability in my world. Her family was always top priority. Even when our relationship was strained due to my alcoholism, she never gave up on me. My sobriety was something I think she was proud of and smiled when she spoke about it.

Caren loved animals. She made sure that I understood the importance of preserving our earth, and taught me compassion for all animals (and most humans!). Over the years she had many pets, most importantly cats! She’d often wear animal print and any kind of cat jewelry to show the world how important they were to her. And she had a knack for giving them unforgettable names—there was Colette, Pandora, Madame Gin Sling, Puddles, Munchkin,  Courageous and Gutsy. Caren also our cat Belle and our dogs, Bella and Pretzel. She was famous for standing next to dogs left outside stores, unattended, while their owners shopped. She’d wait with the animal (to make sure it wasn’t kidnapped) until the owner returned. She would proceed to lecture them on how inhumane and irresponsible it was to do this. She was always a Defender of Wildlife!

Caren worked as a receptionist at Van Eck Global for over 25 years. She regarded this job as her greatest achievement outside of her family. The Van Eck family and their employees cared very deeply for her, and because of that she was happy to work with them. She gave them her heart and soul, and loved decorating the office for every holiday season. What they did for her was something that went above and beyond even her family’s ability to understand, and I personally consider them to be among the finest human beings I have ever known.

Several years back, mom and her beloved cat, Munchkin, moved to an apartment in St. Paul, Minnesota, then to Champlin Shores, and finally to Sholom Home in St. Louis Park. Our family’s deepest gratitude and un-repayable debt goes out to all who took such good care of her at those amazing residences.

Mom began to have some challenges physically with a series of operations, ailments and strokes, but she always remained happy and determined to “get on her feet.”  When she began to use a wheelchair, she would let Noah push her. One Christmas, our whole family had foot/wheelchair races. She absolutely loved to speed down halls as fast as we could push her. Literally.

Mom suffered a stroke on the last Monday in September. Anyone who knows my Mom is aware that she’s a tough old NYC broad. We stayed by her side around the clock for five days. She was still with us in her own way, occasionally squeezing back when we held hands, even opening her eyes and smiling once or twice.  My wife and I had a business commitment in NYC that my Mom would have not been OK with us missing. With the help of the Sholom Hospice, my in-laws and the Mack family, we were still able to attend. When we returned, we spent another day with Mom before she died, with a small smile, on a warm and sunny morning in October. She was surrounded by photos and memories, stuffed cats from her favorite charity, drawings her grandson made, and her favorite possession—the Law and Order hat that Jerry Orbach gave her. And yes, she had green nail polish on to the very end.

My mother was always the best mother she could be to me. Now that I am a parent, I am truly grateful for my mom’s warm spirit and her amazing creativity. She will live on with all of us..

We’ve received inquiries in to making donations in her honor. Please direct donations to her two favorite charitable entities, the Robin Hood Foundation or Defenders of Wildlife.

Robin Hood Foundation
You may make an online donation here.
If you prefer, you can send in a donation (check or money order) to:
Robin Hood
826 Broadway, 9th Floor
New York, New York 10003
Please be sure to include the following information: your name and address and Caren Zimmern as the honoree.

Defenders of Wildlife

You may make an online donation here.
If you prefer, you can send a donation (check or money order) to:
Defenders of  Wildlife National Headquarters
1130 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Please be sure to include the following information: your name and address and Caren Zimmern as the honoree.

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