Born in Winnipeg Manitoba, Riesa Ruth Abrahamson was the first-born child of two formidable intellects; her father Simon, was Manitoba’s first Jewish Rhodes Scholar who became a barrister and Sara Romanovsky, a young Russian immigrant to Canada at the turn of the century. Sara, without a word of English, barely one year later, won the Gold Medal Oratory prize at United College for her speech on Tolstoy. Sara went on to attain a Master’s in Social Work.
The firstborn, but alas, a girl, she would always be overlooked once her brother arrived.
She excelled in acting, (Walt Disney himself autographed her Snow White performance photo at a Santa Monica theater) then public speaking at UCLA. She was selected join Ms. Adelaide Gunther’s The Panel of the Americans – part of the information and education branch of the armed services – a group of racially and religiously diverse female speakers who traveled the country during wartime, teaching about tolerance. Riesa was the panel’s Jew. While she would turn that gift into work as a docent at LACMA and the Skirball Museum later in life, in her prime years she found herself “Mrs. Doctor Howard.” In 1946 she married Harold G. Howard, a physician and a medical officer in the Navy. She became the mother of three under five years of age, the family builder, the professional helpmate/office manager which was the degree her father felt she went to college for: MRS.
The most fulfilling part of her life, she reported when asked, was on the Panel of the Americans and her world travels. As a child, family car travels to every state in the union organized by her father during summer vacations, instilled a love of exploring new places. She visited nearly every continent during her lifetime, with home movies and scrapbooks to memorialize the journeys. She turned her experience into expertise as a travel agent later in life.
Riesa was a patient of JHCLA not once, but twice. After the death of her son in 2006, she developed lymphoma and then chemo toxicity and hovered between life and death. She rallied and was discharged from hospice after one month.
A mother of three and grandmother of six, she will be missed every time Shabbat candles are lit.