‘What have you done for the world today?’

They had a party for Len Newton on Friday. There was a prayer. There was a military presentation of the American flag to Ruby, his widow. There were pictures, and speeches, and food, and memories of Len, who died at the age of 88 on July 19.

Most of all there was respect. Jim Floyd told of how Len helped to create Princeton’s first integrated neighborhood. Len marched in Washington for the “I Have a Dream” speech and again for its 50th anniversary.

Len was a stickler for accuracy and challenged lazy assumptions. In the ’80s and ’90s when U.S. 1 Newspaper staged forums, Len was first at the mike, asking the most challenging question. To an article about Opinion Research (the founder of Response Analysis, Len had pioneered at Opinion Research) he wrote an exquisitely measured letter, partly in praise, partly in correction.

Old age didn’t stop him from his passion for identifying a problem and trying mightily to correct it. When the recession hit, he enlisted the resources of the MIT Club (he had been the president) to create jobs in New Jersey. He talked and urged and bent ears to get people to join him in this effort. He enlisted competent people who helped stage an innovative job fair.

Len’s decline was swift — two months. As late as last year, he wrote urging me to note the passing of a pillar of his church, Witherspoon Presbyterian, the first church in Princeton to have significant racial diversity. As late as February of this year, Len was writing notes to Rich Rein at U.S. 1 Newspaper

An example of how he was amazingly active, even to the end: He astounded me and everyone else by showing up for a breakfast at Jasna Polana, where I was one of the keynote speakers. He didn’t tell me he was coming. He just hopped on a bus and got out at the corner of the vast golf course. Never mind that the entrance was a mile down another road. Somehow he made his way through the back entrance of the estate and found his way to the clubhouse for the gala occasion. In the pouring rain.

When Len Newton wanted to accomplish something, he didn’t take negative answers. His granddaughter summed his philosophy in a poignant speech at the wake, saying — whenever she saw him, he would always ask, “What have you done for the world today?”

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