Raphael was the 93-year-old Rieff’s alter ego for many years after his retirement as a beautician in 1985, especially when he performed with his wife, Harriet Rieff, in area libraries, community centers, churches and synagogues and even on cruise ships. Until her death in 2007, they enjoyed lecturing and performing the works of Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson and dressing up as the characters in each piece.
During the years that they performed, they delighted in hiding the fact that they were married and enjoyed the confusion it caused. Many of their friends often referred to Edward as “Vernon.” At one time, he explained the use of his stage name this way: “They pay better when you’re not husband and wife.”
Rieff lived independently in the Old Village, according to his son, Sam, a Rockville Centre attorney. “He lived on his own,” said his son, who visited his father regularly. “He drove his car to the Associated to buy his groceries. He cooked his own food.”
The elder Rieff published a novel 10 years ago, Mussolini’s Millions, a somewhat autobiographical account of his World War II experiences. Rieff served in Northern Africa and Italy as a sergeant and received a Bronze Star for his actions behind enemy lines.
Rieff also loved to write poetry and had many poems published in the Greaqt Neck Record. He also published a book of his poems, Poetry Among The Reefs. Both of his books are available at the Great Neck Library main branch.
His son, Sam, couldn’t say exactly how or when his father developed his interest in writing.
“He was always a creative person,” said Samuel. “He was a sculptor. He was an artist. His sculptures are all over his house and mine. Writing was part of his creativity.”
Referring to his father’s work as a hair stylist in Great Neck, Queens and Manhattan, Rieff added, “Sculpting hair is also creative.”
“He was a philosopher of life,” his son continued. “He imparted to me a love of beauty and nature and taught me that nature was a place where beauty could always be found. I’m going to miss his calm demeanor and his ability to put the care and worries of life in perspective.
The Rieffs were married almost 60 years and have another son, Raymond, and two grandchildren, Adam and Jamie, by Sam. Area residents may also remember Harriet Rieff because she taught English and literature in the Great Neck School District for many years.
“They had a wonderful marriage,” said Rieff of their almost 60 year relationship. “In the parents’ department, I got lucky.”
Services were held at Temple Beth El where the Rieffs were longtime members. Interment was at Mt. Hebron.
From the Great Neck Record, Aug. 28, 2009
Local Poets: Edward Rieff
My friends say to forget him
Forget his smile
Forget his style
Forget that he made life worthwhile
I’m trying to forget him
Forget the look that always took
my breath away
but by the book
I’m trying to forget him
And just about when I think I do
A song will come out of the blue
And I forget the forgetting I’ve been through.
And so I have to start anew
It’s so hard this forgetting.
Forget the days, forget the nights
Forget the kisses after the fights
Forget the thousand and one delights
Forget the wrongs; forget the rights
I think I can forget him
Forget the joy, forget the bliss
Of his tender good by kiss
The quiet times
The jokes I’ll miss
I hope I can forget him
I pray that there will come a day
When years have flown
And hair turns grey
That in coversation
I will say
I loved this guy
His name was
I’m trying to remember – It’s so hard to remember