Rick Sommers Steinhaus, a Gentle Man. RIP.
There are people who come into your life and leave an indelible mark on your heart. Rick Sommers Steinhaus was one of those people. When I got the call last week that started with, “I have bad news….” my breathing stopped ….and when I heard the next words, “Rick died yesterday,” it only restarted from the shock of those three unbelievable words.
Rick was the long-time love and partner of my dear friend Valerie Smaldone, who was an early cheerleader for The Three Tomatoes and our first contributor (her column, Broadway & Bagels appears weekly.) They had a beautiful love story and my heart breaks for her devastating loss.
When I first met Rick, he had just received his Master’s degree in social work after a two decade career in broadcasting. He was trying to fix the world, one person at a time, and he joked that it was taking a little bit longer than he anticipated. This was a guy who really cared about people and the world around him. I was immediately drawn to Rick, as were all who knew him, first by his dazzling smile, but more importantly, his superpower, which was truly connecting with people. When you had a conversation with Rick, it was all about you. When he asked, “How are you?” he truly wanted to know the answer. He made everyone feel special as if they were the only person in a crowded room.
I also knew Rick had Multiple Sclerosis, which at the time I knew very little about. But fast forward to a few years ago, when my daughter, Roni, was having strange symptoms and her doctors had no answers, yet we suspected they sounded like MS symptoms. I called Valerie and Rick, and the next day she had an appointment with the top MS doctor in New York City, who confirmed our suspicions. Rick immediately reached out to her offering his support, as he did with so many others diagnosed with this incurable disease. I never once talked to Rick when he did not ask me, “How is Roni?” He was a powerful spokesperson for the National MS Society and ran many support groups for others with the disease.
When I first met Rick, he was physically robust and showed no outward signs of his disease, but over the years it slowly grabbed hold of him. It was difficult to watch his physical health decline over the years, but I never saw him feel sorry for himself. He always greeted everyone with that dazzling smile, optimism, and his inquisitive mind. I loved conversations with Rick. He was a deep thinker with a great sense of humor, a rare combination.
In the past few months, I had the privilege of working closely with Rick on a book he was writing about living with Multiple Sclerosis. He was on a mission to help other people living with MS or any incurable disease. It is a book that deals with the subject realistically, but with hope and optimism. It is my hope that Valerie and I can get his book completed and share with the world.
Rick was truly a gentle man…kind in a world that is sorely lacking in kindness and empathy. My heart goes out to Valerie, his family, and the many friends who loved him. He left his indelible mark on our hearts.
Editor’s Note: Please note, Valerie is taking a break from writing her weekly column, but she will be back. And feel free to leave a comment for her below. We know she will appreciate it.