Betty D. Friedlander , 95, of Ithaca died Thursday, October 24, 2019 at home with her children at her side.
Betty was born in Brooklyn, New York on November 22, 1923. She grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn with her 2 older sisters Esther and Hilda and younger brother Sydney. Her parents Louis Bregman and Leah (Finn) had immigrated from Poland and Belarus. She was a graduate of Goucher Woman’s College in Baltimore where she studied piano. In 1948, she moved to Waverly, New York with her then husband Alan Friedlander.
When her children were 7, 5, and 4 years old, Betty enrolled at Cornell Law School graduating in 1959. While in private practice, she also served as the first director of the Cornell Legal Aid Clinic from 1959-1971.
As a private lawyer she represented people in both civil and criminal trials and had a reputation as a zealous advocate for her clients, many of whom were vulnerable and without a voice. She fought for civil rights and became an advocate of prisoner rights in the New York State prisons bringing civil rights actions in federal courts to guarantee those rights. She was appointed an original member of the New York State Medical Review Board by then Governor Rockefeller to review and investigate prisoner deaths. In May 1977, Gov. Hugh Carey appointed her to fill the Tompkins County Court Judgeship and the following November she ran for election for a full term beating her Republican opponent to become the first woman judge elected to a position in Tompkins County.
In 1987, she ran unchallenged for another 10 year term. As a judge she helped establish the law guardian office-now a national model-and introduced a foster care early review program which became the basis for statewide legislation. She created the Family Court Advisory Council, helped start the Tompkins Seneca Tioga BOCES, helped establish children’s programs and group homes, the Youth Bureau… And the list goes on. “A judge has a unique perspective. I’ve always taken it to be my role to build the resources-even if we didn’t have them-to meet the needs of the community” she said when she retired.
She also fought relentlessly for the rights of battered women, encouraged alternatives to incarceration and lobbied strongly for early intervention and inner agency cooperation in dealing with families at risk. Keeping troubled families and children out of court was a goal of hers. She made a difference in her community advocating for children and families.
Forced by state law to retire at age 70, Betty again became a private lawyer in 1994 working with her son William at Friedlander, Friedlander, Reizes, Joch and Littman Law Firm.
Her practice concentrated on representing students that were victims of hazing and sexual assault, birth injury cases, and child custody and divorce. Again, she was zealously fighting for her clients and did so with passion, commitment and unbelievable energy. She mentored many students working for her and many later became lawyers themselves.
Working with her paralegal Ramona Radazzo Cunningham and her long time law clerk, attorney Karen Kauffmann, she left no stone unturned to find witnesses, evidence and legal authority for her clients to win. She continued to actively practice law, trying cases until she retired at age 94.
She was passionate about the arts and was on the original board that successfully obtained state funding for the Hanger Theater.
She loved music and was a great pianist. She loved her walnut Steinway and we loved hearing her play it. She counted many musicians as her friends and so enjoyed having musical parties where Malcom Bilson and friends would come with instruments to play Schubert or Mozart or Bach. She loved to cook and have people over. Her recipes appeared in local food pages and her dinner parties were famous for her chicken cacciatore. Her eggs benedict and her New Orleans beignets were out of this world. She enjoyed her cookbooks and looking for a new recipe.
She hosted meatloaf bake offs with Chef Etienne Merle as Judge, where cooks would bring meatloaf (and because she lived in Ithaca, some were not made of meat) to be judged the best.
She loved literature and many writers were her friends.
Nothing pleased her more than Dickens, Trollope, Tolstoy, Chekhov and Henry James.
She loved her family most of all: her daughter Valerie, son William, granddaughters Sydney and Holley, step grandchildren Scott and Tyler Nearing and great grandchildren Xavier, Miles and Cecilia.
Whether with her family, friends, or the legal community, Betty’s wisdom, humanity, humor and compassion made a tremendous impact on the many lives she touched. When interviewed at the time of her retirement as a Judge she was accused of being a romantic…… Her response was “What can I say? Life is short”.
In addition to her parents, Betty was predeceased by her son Neil, her sisters Esther Barash and Hilda Tashoff, her brother Sydney Bregman, her long time companion Dan Mc Call, her niece, Alice Tashoff and nephew Lance Barash. She is survived by her daughter Valerie Friedlander and her partner Lou Valenti, and son William( Harmony). Her granddaughters Holley Friedlander (Dan Ippolito) and Sydney (Gabe) LePage. Step grandsons Scott and Tyler Nearing. Great grandchildren Xavier and Miles LePage and Cecilia Ippolito. Nieces, Barbara Simmons, Carolyn, Susan and Jessica Bregman, nephew Hank Tashoff, and her longtime friend Birdie MacGruder.
The family would like to express their appreciation to her long time personal assistant Ann Wiiki and caregivers Lakitta Hardison, Jasmine Haynes, Crystal Vanpetten, Keanna Nembhard, Kenja Sampson and Sherena Vaughn and to Hospicare.
A celebration of her life will be held at the Country Club of Ithaca, Pleasant Grove Road on November 16, 2019 from 1:30pm to 3:30pm.
In Lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Tompkins County Library Foundation for the purchase of children’s books, 101 E Green St, Ithaca, NY 14850.