An extraordinary memoir, Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship, by New York Post investigative reporter Isabel Vincent, shares the life and wisdom of Edward Hussey, a remarkable man who lived on Roosevelt Island for more than 30 years.
Edward and Isabel met at a pivotal point in each of their lives and, over fabulous dinners prepared by Edward, nurtured and supported each other in what became a very close and inspiring friendship.
When Edward’s wife Paula, the love of his life, died in October 2009 after 68 years of marriage, Edward was left bereft and feeling that his life had lost all meaning. At the same time, Isabel, who had recently moved to New York to take a job at the Post, was becoming aware that her marriage was failing. One of her oldest friends, Edward’s daughter Valerie, suggested that Isabel have dinner with her father and keep an eye on him. Valerie was worried that Edward had given up on life, but she lived in Canada and her sister Laura lived in Greece. So, for a variety of reasons, from her own loneliness to loyalty to her friend, Isabel went to dinner.
“But from the beginning of our relationship, I knew instinctively that his culinary tips went far beyond the preparation of food,” Isabel notes in her memoir.
In 2010, in a final effort to save her marriage, Isabel moved to the Octagon on Roosevelt Island with her husband, who hated the noise and chaos of Manhattan, and their daughter. Thus her dinners with Edward became weekly events.
Many people on the Island knew both Edward and Paula, who lived in Rivercross and hosted many community dinners. Edward started cooking for Paula and their friends when he was in his 70s. Isabel’s descriptions of the savory meals make this book particularly wonderful for people who love to cook and eat and who associate good meals with conversation, atmosphere, friends, and family. Edward could cook fabulous souffles, chicken baked in a bag, fennel remoulade, and much more – all without using recipes. Isabel says that he once recreated an almond cake he had seen in the window of Payard bakery without even having tasted it.
According to Tad Sudol, a friend of the Husseys for 24 years, although Edward had no formal training as a chef, he had great knowledge of food and went to good restaurants in the city with Paula. Tad and his family were regulars at Edward’s dinners and he says that Edward and Paula were like grandparents to his children. “I often felt like I was going to my American parents when we had dinner with them.”
Edward’s dinners are described as events where, in addition to the food and drink, there were conversations about everything from science and art, to books, movies, and music. Edward selected people of various backgrounds and ages, but always with a commonality of interests.
In the memoir and the memory of people who knew him, Edward is portrayed as an exceptionally classy and caring human being. He was someone who listened to people’s stories on the street, in the elevator, at the library, at the pool. And, when he heard the stories, he remembered them and wrote them down. He was a man for whom daily events – surrounded by friends and family – constituted the meaning of life.
Edward once told Isabel, “People are too obsessed with seeking experience and feeling that if they are not living on the razor’s edge, they are not alive. It’s because they can’t deal with normal life. They need to climb Mount Everest instead.”
In an interview, Isabel recounted the time Edward came to see a neighbor in Rivercross who was recovering from surgery, and brought a plate of food. She thanked him, and mentioned that her mother was caring for her. A few minutes later, Edward returned with a second plate of food for her mother. This story was confirmed by Linda Heimer, who was the neighbor and who has fond memories of Edward.
Isabel feels that she became a sort of project for Edward who, in addition to the dinners, gave advice and support, even going so far as to take her to Saks to buy herself an expensive and lovely dress. Edward, a debonair man himself, picked out the dress and because he had been a tailor, it was the right one for her. When she wore the dress to go to a party on New Year’s Eve, she showed it to him before she left. Edward insisted on more lipstick and provided a piece of Paula’s jewelry that perfected the outfit. While some of her coworkers found this to be sexist, it comes across as caring in the memoir, and Isabel says that she never thought of his advice as anything more than an expression of concern and affection for her. “He really changed the way I thought about pretty much everything.”
In addition to his people skills and culinary gifts, Edward was accomplished in many areas. At various times he was a tailor, a welder, a playwright, and a poet. His poetry was unpublished but Isabel says it is beautiful and meant to be read aloud. His apartment was decorated with furniture he had built, as well as quilted pillows, placemats, hooked and braided rugs that Paula had made. Everything was saved and repurposed to make something new. Isabel says that she was touched when she learned that Edward had saved every letter, theater program, restaurant business card, birthday and Valentine’s Day cards, and Thanksgiving day menus. Isabel relates that he had no cell phone, no computer, never watched TV, and wrote in longhand. “We live in the age of communications but nobody knows how to communicate any more,” he once told her.
When, at 93, Edward was confined to bed after a fall, Isabel says she felt helpless. She started sending messages and calling to ask about recipes or ways of cooking, hoping to take his mind off his pain. After he recovered, she told him that she was writing a memoir of their friendship and dinners together. When she showed him the manuscript, he cried but then asked, “Who’s going to care about this? We’re not celebrities.”
Isabel wishes Edward were still alive to learn that China bought the rights to translate the book and that the film rights have been optioned by a famous producer.
She recounted a letter he wrote to her at the end of his life saying, “I want to die but there’s no exit. Living is easy, it’s death that’s hard.”
This memoir is a portrait of a man who lived life to the fullest.
Dinner With Edward is available online through tinyurl.com/DinnerWithEdward.