Historical records matching Robert Treuhaft
About Robert Treuhaft
December 2, 2001 Robert Treuhaft, Lawyer Who Inspired Funeral Exposé, Dies at 89
By PAUL LEWIS Robert Treuhaft, a crusading radical lawyer who inspired his wife, Jessica Mitford, to write her best seller "The American Way of Death," died in New York on Nov. 11. He was 89.
As a union lawyer representing longshoremen in the San Francisco area in the 1950's, Mr. Treuhaft was enraged by the exorbitant fees undertakers charged, frequently consuming a widow's death benefits.
After organizing the Bay Area Funeral Society to reduce the cost of funerals for union members, Mr. Treuhaft encouraged his wife to write an exposé of the funeral industry, taking a year off from his Oakland law practice to help with research.
The result was "The American Way of Death," first published in 1963. Miss Mitford, who was known as Decca and who died in 1996, dedicated the work to her husband with gratitude for "his untiring collaboration."
In a 1993 interview, Miss Mitford said that initially she had not been interested in the subject. "Then Bob started bringing home the trade publications like Casket and Sunnyside, Mortuary Management — all those wonderful names — so I began to study them," she said.
When the British novelist Evelyn Waugh remarked that the book seemed to have been written by two people, Jessica Mitford's sister Nancy wrote back saying: "Clever of you to see the two voices. I am quite certain much of it was written by Treuhaft who is a sharp little lawyer, and who certainly made her write it in the first place."
In 1976 Gov. Jerry Brown of California appointed Mr. Treuhaft to the state Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers.
Robert Edward Treuhaft was born in New York on Aug. 8, 1912, the son of working-class immigrants from Hungary. His mother eventually came to run her own hat shop on Park Avenue; his father, a waiter turned bootlegger, became part owner of a Wall Street restaurant.
Raised in the Bronx and then Brooklyn, Mr. Treuhaft won a scholarship to Harvard, where he studied law.
After working for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in New York, Mr. Treuhaft was rejected by the Army on medical grounds at the start of World War II and went to work for the Office of Price Administration in Washington; there he met and fell in love with Miss Mitford.
The couple could scarcely have been more different in upbringing. She was one of the blue-blooded Mitford sisters, a daughter of Lord Redesdale and sister to Nancy, the novelist; to Diana, who married Sir Oswald Mosley, the British fascist leader; to Unity, one of Hitler's cronies; and to Deborah, who became Duchess of Devonshire.
Miss Mitford was recovering from the loss of her first husband, Esmond Romilly, Winston Churchill's nephew, who had been killed on a Canadian Air Force raid over Germany and with whom she had eloped to fight with the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War.
Mr. Treuhaft and Miss Mitford were married in 1943; Miss Mitford accepted his proposal before he had finished making it. They moved to San Francisco, where Mr. Treuhaft started a radical law firm that specialized in fighting every kind of discrimination and social injustice.
Both joined the United States Communist Party and were frequently investigated and harassed by government officials; for many years they were denied passports, for example. But by 1958 they had grown disillusioned with Communism and left the party.
In 1964 Mr. Treuhaft was one of four foreign lawyers expelled from Portugal by the fascist government of Premier Antonio de Oliveira Salazar after they had tried to investigate penal conditions in the country.
In 1971 he accepted a young Yale lawyer named Hillary Rodham (now Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton) as an intern.
After his wife's death, Mr. Treuhaft completed her last book, "The American Way of Death Revisited." He was working on a collection of her letters at the time of his death.
Mr. Treuhaft is survived by a stepdaughter, Constancia Romilly, and his son, Benjamin, a New York piano tuner who runs the Send a Piano to Havana Project, shipping old pianos to Cuba.