November 2, 2009

Michael Goldsmith, Who Raised Awareness of A.L.S., Dies at 58

By GEORGE VECSEY
The New York Times

Michael Goldsmith, who battled amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — Lou Gehrig’s disease — and was honored in Yankee Stadium on July 4 on the 70th anniversary of Gehrig’s classic farewell speech, died Sunday. He was 58.

The cause was respiratory failure from A.L.S., according to his son, Austen Goldsmith. Mr. Goldsmith died in a hospice at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, where he had been living since early August, according to his son.

Michael Goldsmith

 

Mr. Goldsmith, the Woodruff J. Deem professor of law at Brigham Young, spent his final three years fighting the same disease that struck Gehrig in 1939 and has come to be known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

After the diagnosis in 2006, Mr. Goldsmith — a New Yorker who grew up rooting for the Baltimore Orioles — attended a fantasy camp run by the Orioles. In November 2008, he wrote a guest column in Newsweek, calling on Major League Baseball to do more to fight the disease that killed Gehrig on June 2, 1941.

A.L.S. is “a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord,” according to the A.L.S. Association.

In response, M.L.B. held ceremonies on July 4, 2009, the 70th anniversary of Gehrig’s speech in which he said he was “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” In 15 major league stadiums, teams and fans were encouraged to donate money.

Mr. Goldsmith flew in from Utah with his family to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Accompanied by his son, Mr. Goldsmith stood near home plate and made an underhanded flip to Mark Teixeira, the Yankees’ first baseman.

“He promised they would win the game for us — and they did,” the son said. Michael Goldsmith refrained from telling Teixeira that he was an Orioles fan.

“Being on the field with my father was the single greatest moment of my life,” Austen Goldsmith said Sunday. “I think he was holding on for that.”

Mr. Goldsmith’s condition deteriorated, and in August he was moved from Utah to be closer to his mother, Anitta Goldsmith, 80, who was born in Austria and moved to what was then called Palestine in 1939. Michael Goldsmith was born in Israel on March 5, 1951, and in 1955 the family moved to New York, where he attended Forest Hills High School in Queens. After graduation from Cornell in 1972, he attended law school at Cornell, graduating in 1975. He worked as an assistant United States attorney and later served as a counsel to the New York State Organized Crime Task Force.

He continued to teach at Brigham Young after the A.L.S. was diagnosed.

“I have spent more than two decades exhorting law students to take a proactive ‘can do’ approach to the law and life in general,” Mr. Goldsmith wrote via e-mail in late June. “And I have tried to lead by example, showing them how creativity and commitment to a cause can produce positive results. The success of this effort demonstrates yet again how ‘the power of one’ can make a difference.”

One of his best friends from their Cornell days, Aric Press, editor of The American Lawyer, said on Sunday: “In the last few months he communicated with a mouse and synthesizer, using the last strength in his right hand. It was very hard to know that inside his mind was still working.”

Mr. Goldsmith is survived by his wife, Carolyn Goldsmith, and his two children from a previous marriage, Jillian Goldsmith and Austen Goldsmith, both of New York, as well as two sisters, Lynn Goldsmith and Edna Goldsmith, and their mother, Anitta Goldsmith of Albany.