By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
It had been one year to the day since Montclair lost Judy Weston.
Family and friends gathered at New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Victoria Theater Saturday, Oct. 9 to pay tribute to Weston, a philanthropist who’d begun her career as a social worker and who’d served as president of the Montclair Adult School.
The tribute was filled with stories of Weston’s compassion and generosity, shared by family members, close friends, colleagues and her husband, Josh Weston — who continues to support several causes and organizations in Montclair and at Montclair State University, as the couple had done for decades.
A dance performance was presented by the National Dance Institute, of which Judy Weston was a board member for 15 years.
“Although for many of you, my mom’s generosity and thoughtfulness might be what you think of first, for me, it was what I will generously call her pervasive enthusiasm,” the Westons’ daughter, Heather Weston, said at the tribute. “She was a zealot and an evangelist. If she loved something, she would not relent until you loved it too. … And while she only sometimes made me a convert, she did something more important. She turned me into someone who has tried and likes to try lots of new things.”
National Dance Institute chair Helen Stambler Neuberger and artistic director Ellen Weinstein also shared thoughts about Weston, named the group’s director emerita.
“Judy was a powerful example of empathy, generosity and justice, and of knowing what it takes to work for a more humane world,” Neuberger said. “I believe that’s why she loved [National Dance Institute] so much.”
Weinstein said Judy Weston’s legacy at the National Dance Institute reached not only its children, but its teachers, artists and administrative staff. She shared a story that reminded her of Judy Weston
In the story, a boy is throwing starfish back into the ocean, saving them as the surf is up and the tide is going out. A man approaches him, telling him that he can’t make a difference, because there are hundreds of starfish to be saved. The boy, picking up another starfish and throwing it to the ocean, turns to the man and says: ‘I made a difference for that one.”
“Judy, on behalf of the National Dance Institute, for all the lives you’ve touched and all the children [for] whom you’ve made a difference, we thank you. We love you. You will live in our hearts always,” Weinstein said.
Josh Weston took the stage, thanking everyone attending, in-person and virtually (the event was streamed on the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s website), for joining in celebrating his wife’s legacy.
He shared two stories to demonstrate his wife’s generosity:
On a trip to Norway when they were younger, they were having pizza in a restaurant in Oslo, and Judy Weston wanted to give the leftovers to a homeless person. For 10 minutes, the couple walked up and down blocks to give the leftovers to someone, but couldn’t find anyone — because Oslo has very few homeless people.
Josh Weston said that every time they went out to eat, his wife made sure he tipped at least 20%. She would take out a $5 bill and look for the busboy of the restaurant — even heading into the kitchen to find him, if she had to.
“I am absolutely positive that she helped way more than $1,000 disadvantaged people,” Josh said.
The couple’s philanthropy is well-known. In 2000, the Westons started the Weston Science Scholars Program, which allows Montclair High School students to participate in laboratory work at Montclair State University. More than 800 students have taken part in the program since its inception.
The Westons also sponsored and funded Montclair High School’s robotics program, the high school’s 3D Innovation Laboratory, and the STEM lab at Buzz Aldrin Middle School.
They have been donors to the Montclair Art Museum, the Montclair Film Festival, Mountainside Hospital, and the Montclair Ambulance Unit. Josh Weston recently supported Montclair Local with a matching grant program — donating $20,000 to the nonprofit news organization.
This summer, the Montclair Township Council voted to have a section of Watchung Park turned into a garden dedicated to Judy Weston’s memory; the garden is expected to open in the spring.
At the tribute Saturday, Judy Weston’s longtime friends also shared anecdotes of how they met her, in different stages of her life, and how they became good friends. Judy Weston had waited for her friend Rita Singer to make sure she was fine after a fire alarm rang at the YMCAs when they were younger. A conversation about dance made Judy Weston and friend Joan Kram close when they were both 48 years old. Carolyn Lack described how when Judy Weston would celebrate a birthday with their circle of friends, she brought gifts for everyone, not just the celebrant.
Weston’s grandsons, Bryan and Adam Joel, shared what made their grandmother, who they called Nana, special.
Bryan Joel said whenever they would visit her, she’d be there at the back door, waving as they walked up to the house — then waving again as they left and their car pulled away. She’d tell stories describing every name, date and relationship involved. “And when the conversation would end, she would always say the words, send my love to your family, and she would give the most rapid goodbyes,” Bryan Joel said. “For some reason, it seemed like she was always interrupting her own goodbyes with more goodbyes.”
The tribute ended with a reception outside the theater with a small request from Weston’s daughter, Hilary Weston Joel. She asked people to approach someone they don’t know and asked how they knew Weston.
“I’m pretty sure the resulting conversation will make you smile,” Hilary said.