Synagogue shooting victim Richard Gottfried ‘loved being a dentist and his patients loved him’

November 24, 2018

Hundreds of people stood in line late Thursday afternoon to pay their respects to Richard Gottfried, a dentist with a love for wine and sports and a penchant for helping others.

Gottfried, 65, was killed in Saturday’s mass shooting at Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill.

The line was so long for the funeral at Ralph Schugar Chapel, in Shadyside, that employees set up speakers outside. Attendees listened to the service in the rain under umbrellas.

Debi Salvin, Gottfried’s twin sister, spoke through her tears of her close relationship with her brother.

“How do you summarize a life of memories?” she said. “I’m heartbroken that there will be no more of them. It crushes my soul to speak of him in the past tense. He was smart, funny and kind. He loved life. He loved being a dentist, and his patients loved him. He was my trailblazer and the wind beneath my wings. I feel at a loss on how to carry on without him there to guide me.”

In a statement written by a nephew named Sam, Gottfried was described as a man of great compassion and tolerance who had a “phenomenal wine collection,” a love for the 1942 movie “Holiday Inn” and an avid sports fan -- especially the University of Pittsburgh’s teams.

His nephew noted that Gottfried was lost to “a vicious attack fueled by hate, fear and anger.” He added that his uncle “did not possess these emotions -- his world was full of love and compassion.”

“He was about putting others first -- whether it was immigrants and refugees or the uninsured,” his nephew’s statement read. “In a world where words are too often used with careless malice, we must reflect on all that is good around us every day. I will not let anger consume me. Love conquers hate, respect and tolerance overpower fear, and compassion overcomes anger.”

In describing Gottfried, a statement from other family members cited the Letter to the Ephesians: “Be always humble, gentle and patient. Show your love by being tolerant with one another.”

The ceremony included a reading of Linda Ellis’ “The Dash Poem,” which describes how the dash between the dates of one’s birth and death -- or, the years between -- on a gravestone are symbolic of the sum of one’s life experiences.

Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, of the New Light Congregation, said that Gottfried’s life had been well spent, and that the dentist -- who operated a private practice in West View for 30 years and worked at the Squirrel Hill Health Center for more than five years -- went out of his way to help others.

“If there ever was a soul who could touch others’ souls in this world, I imagine it would be a dentist,” Perlman said. “One has to be comfortable with being up close and personal. Rich took this one step further. He built into his practice the time he’d devote every week for pro bono work for the poor and indigent.”

Gottfried is survived by his wife, Dr. Margaret “Peg” Durachko; sisters Bonni Huffman, Debi Salvan and Carol Black; as well as nieces, nephews and cousins.

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