Saturday, October 27, 2012

Bernie McFall, ¡Presente!

We are holding a memorial for Bernie on Friday, November 30, 2012, 6:30 pm at the AJ Muste Memorial Institute, 339 Lafayette Street, buzzer 11, New York, NY, at Bleecker Street. (Take the 6 train to Bleecker Street, or the B,D,F or M to Broadway-Lafayette.) Please join us.

Longtime solidarity activist Bernie McFall died of complications from pneumonia in Elmhurst Hospital in Queens on Oct. 16. He was 76 and had been fighting two forms of cancer.

Bernie was a reliable presence at demonstrations, vigils and picket lines in the New York area for more than two decades, with a special focus on solidarity with the peoples of Central America, Cuba, Haiti and Palestine. During the contra war of the 1980s Bernie worked with the California-based organization TecNica in Nicaragua as a volunteer consultant on IBM mainframes. In the 1990s he traveled to the West Bank to observe conditions there, and he visited Cuba in the early 2000s.

Photo: Life or Liberty
Although he was probably best known for his dedication in handling the routine work of political organizing—photocopying, leafleting, mailing out fliers—Bernie was knowledgeable in many areas, especially Middle Eastern history. He could read an astonishing number of languages, including French, Spanish, German, Italian, Latin, Greek and some Mandarin. He studied Fijian in the 1970s when he was in the Peace Corps, and he learned Arabic in a US military school during the late 1950s, when he was stationed in Eritrea, which was then annexed to Ethiopia. Years later he would smile and say: “They wouldn’t necessarily approve of how I’ve used what they taught me.”

The New York-based Palestinian activist Farouk Abdel-Muhti was a close friend, and he was staying at Bernie’s apartment in April 2002 when a joint task force of immigration agents and the New York City police arrested him in what quickly became a cause célèbre. Bernie worked steadily in the two-year campaign that finally won Farouk's release; the federal judge who freed Farouk described the Palestinian’s imprisonment as “Kafkaesque.” Bernie himself was threatened and harassed by the police and others during the campaign; filmmaker Konrad Aderer provides more information on Bernie's role at the Life or Liberty website.

Bernie was involved with the Weekly News Update from its first days in 1990, working tirelessly to select and clip articles to be summarized and often arranging for photocopying. We will be joining with others to honor him with a memorial; we’ll announce the plans as soon as we know them.

A few weeks before he died, Bernie asked to make sure his books were made available to people who would make good use of them. Please contact us at if you would like more information on the collection, which includes a number of books in Arabic.

Bernie's birthday, February 2012. Photo: Rena Cohen/NYC

A Tribute From Bernie’s Family 
Bernie was much loved by family members too numerous to mention individually--23 surviving nieces and nephews, as well as 41 second- and 14 third-generation nieces and nephews. He attended all the family reunions, weddings, special occasions, celebrations and gatherings he possibly could, and they were numerous. Bernie will be remembered as the fun-loving, playful, favorite uncle who was game for anything and everything that crossed his path.

Bernie at an immigrant rights demo
He had a great love for life. His passions were many, encompassing all types of arts (opera, symphony, ballet, languages, paintings, and sculptures) as well as education, which consequently transferred to many family members and friends. He traveled the world never meeting a stranger and was extremely involved in defending human rights. Bernie gave much support and encouragement, not only monetarily but in any way he could.

He will be greatly missed by so many that he touched and will always have a very special place in all of our hearts.

Bernie in the 1980s. Photos: Rena Cohen/NYC


Anonymous said...

AI went to the University of Chicago with Bernie back in the 60's, worked with him at a pharmaceutical company and then lost touch as we both moved on. Loved the guy. Smart, humane, decent. I'll say a quiet prayer for him tonight....

Anonymous said...

I worked with Bernie at Weyerhaeuser in Chicago in the early 70s. He taught me computer languages. He left us for the Peace Corps. Quite some brilliant and nice individual.