Over the last year, Dr. Norman Ascherman made a short video about his life that was uploaded to YouTube, wrote his own obituary and collaborated with longtime friend Diane Portnoff on his eulogy.
It was that eulogy which she recited at his funeral July 16.
“It wasn’t me delivering the eulogy,” Portnoff said. “They were his words and what he wanted people to know. People thought they knew Norman well, and they learned a lot more from what they heard.”
Ascherman, a prominent dentist, lawyer and philanthropist, died July 13 at age 81 at his San Francisco home overlooking the bay. He died of prostate cancer, the same disease that took the life of his identical twin, Stanford, nearly four years ago.
Friends described Ascherman, a lifelong bachelor but someone with many friends and acquaintances, as articulate and intelligent, considerate and helpful, caring and generous. His donations helped organizations both locally and internationally.
“He cared for his community,” said Marianne Pinsler, a friend of more than 30 years. “If he saw a need, he was there to help. He believed in the organizations he supported.”
Contributing to various Jewish groups, including the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and the American Society for Technion Institute of Technology, brought Ascherman closer to his faith. Celebrating his bar mitzvah at age 56 strengthened his ties to Judaism.
Those revelations were found in the notes Ascherman prepared before his death, in which he also recalled thanking his parents for not giving him a bar mitzvah at age 13. He said having the ceremony at an advanced age was more meaningful because of the life experiences and knowledge he brought to the occasion.
A regular at Friday morning Torah study, Ascherman continued to stay active at the now defunct Congregation Anshei Ha’sefer in San Francisco until the late ’90s, when physical ailments began to limit his activities.
Born in 1926 in Chicago, Ascherman spent most of his childhood in Wilmette, Ill., with brothers Stanford, Leonard and Gerald and his sister, Dorothy.
He graduated from the University of Illinois and studied briefly at Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University before leaving for the University of Illinois College of Dentistry, earning a doctor of dental surgery degree in 1950.
Ascherman joined the Navy, serving as a dental officer at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Japan and on the USS Coral Sea. Upon returning to the United States, he was stationed at the Alameda Naval Air Station and later released from active duty as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve.
After opening his first dental practice in San Francisco, Ascherman, in his spare time, attended law school at Golden Gate University where he met Rick Bradley. The pair would later work in the same building, Ascherman as a dentist, Bradley as an attorney.
“I will never forget meeting [Ascherman] for the first time at night law school,” Bradley said. “We were selected as partners for the moot court brief presentation. I did the research and wrote the brief, and he paid for the printing.
“However, he got an ‘A’ and I got a ‘B’ because his oral presentation was better.”
Ascherman cherished memories with his friends and filled the walls of his home with his type of “art” — photos of him with friends, prime ministers and dignitaries.
“No matter how sick he got, he was always concerned about the welfare of his friends,” Portnoff said. “He had friends all over the world and he truly loved being surrounded by people.”
Ascherman is survived by his brother Dr. Gerald Ascherman of Chicago. Contributions can be made to the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science, 300 Montgomery St., Suite 615, San Francisco, CA 94105, or the Hebrew Free Loan Association, 131 Steuart St., Suite 425, S.F., CA 94105.