I was on my way into the office Tuesday morning when I heard someone call my name. Over my shoulder, I saw a snow-topped gent rise from his seat in the Spring Street lobby of The Times.
He was casually dressed and mild-mannered, and he spoke softly, asking if I was Steve Lopez. Yes, I said, and he told me his name was Joe Ingber, and that he had practiced law for many years from an office across the street. He was just wondering, he said, if I had ever received notice of a donation he made in my father's name.
I thought back on lots of nice cards and letters from readers, but no, as a matter of fact, I didn't recall confirmation of a charitable donation. Ingber said he wanted me to know he had been thinking of my father and our family.
I shook his hand and told him I was genuinely touched. And I asked what had brought him to The Times building on a fine summer day.
Oh, he said, he was there to place a small ad in the newspaper in tribute to his deceased wife, Eileen. I began to offer my sympathies, assuming she had died recently. But that was not the case.
She died on July 8, 2002, 21/2 difficult years after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
"I place an ad in the paper twice a year," said Ingber. "One on her birthday and one on the day she died."
And how long had he been doing this?
"For 10 years," said Ingber, 81. "It isn't much, just a few lines."
Ingber was waiting on a sales person from the advertising department to come down and take the ad for this coming July 8. He was carrying a manila envelope with this year's ad written on a piece of note paper that was tucked into the envelope.
This year's ad will say:
Nov. 3, 1933 — July 8, 2002
Ten Years — We Will Always
Remember Your Love
Joe — Stacy — And Marco
Stacy is Ingber's daughter and Marco is his grandson, and they live with him in Cheviot Hills.
Ingber said he always writes something a little different to his wife of 40 years, who died at the age of 68.
On Nov. 3, 2010, Ingber's classified ad for his wife said:
HAPPY BIRTHDAY Ei"
Let's Go Shopping at
LOEHMANN'S — We Miss
You — A LOT
It means something to Ingber to have his wife's name in the same paper that was graced by the ruminations and witticisms of Jack Smith, Jim Murray and Paul Conrad, he told me. He still has yellowed clippings of Conrad's cartoons, he said, and he confessed to being an old-school guy who prefers reading news he can hold in his hands. He doesn't even own a computer.
"I will never be hacked," he said, explaining that his electronic evolution stalled after the introduction of the IBM Selectric.
While we were chatting, Tribune President Eddy Hartenstein came by and I told him Ingber was about to place a small classified ad honoring his wife on the 10th anniversary of her death. Hartenstein thanked him and took a seat with us in the lobby, and they were soon sharing memories of their favorite work by Murray, Conrad and Smith before moving on to the crucial importance in society of a free press that serves the public's right to know.
Ingber was a criminal defense attorney of note until just a few years ago, having represented 25 death penalty cases, by his reckoning. One of them was Stanley "Tookie" Williams, one of the early leaders of the Crips, and I told Ingber I was a witness at Williams' 2005 execution by lethal injection at San Quentin.
Much earlier in Ingber's career, it was a minor case that introduced him to his wife-to-be.
"Somebody had blown a red light and plowed into her car," said Ingber, who was handed the insurance settlement case by his then-boss attorney Paul Caruso.
After he had gotten his client the settlement she deserved, Ingber asked her out, but he was adamant about doing the ethical thing and waiting until she was an ex-client.
And that was how it began. The courtship, the marriage, the family life. They vacationed in London, Paris and Rome, and took many trips to the Far East. Eileen worked outside the home on occasion, played cards with friends, and lived very actively until she became ill.
"You're never trained as a caretaker," he said, but he did his part as best he could, standing by her until the day he watched his wife take her last breath.
With a tear in his eye, Ingber said that when Eileen was gone, he knew the true depth of his love for her, and he wished he had done more to make his feelings known when she was alive. He said he knows that it was at times difficult for her to be married to a criminal defense attorney whose clients were often despised by the public. He wishes he had more clearly explained his belief that the integrity of the criminal justice system would be undermined if those accused of crimes didn't have access to a fair and professional defense, regardless of the nature of the alleged crimes.
Ingber acknowledged that the ads may be a way of grieving. They're also a way of honoring his wife's life, showing his respect for her and getting it on the record that "the feelings are still there."