Death came too soon for a man who knew how to live

| 30 Sep 2011 | 09:46

    When I read the message from my buddy Bruce messaged me that Rickey Mandel had passed, it didn’t seem possible. Rickey was a dear friend to many of us, with his affable ease, incomparable generosity and subtle humor. As my friend and occasional employer, Rick taught me much in his auspiciously subtle, Zen-like way. Cut from distinctively Hugh Hefneresque cloth, Rick had a keen sixth sense for truly enjoying life. He was hard-wired for kicking back and allowed little to distract him from the simplest enjoyments. When visa issues caused me to miss a ski season abroad, Rick stepped in and offered me work and a private cottage at Glenmere. Every day with Rick was teachable, on his part: I remember the caterers once setting up for a wedding in the mansion, as they did every weekend back then, and Rick caught me cleaning up some refuse they’d dropped. “My man,” Rick murmured, as only Rick could, “that’s the caterers’ job, not ours.” “I just thought I’d help,” I explained. “You work for me, not for them, my man. If you need something to do, sit back and enjoy a glass of wine on the patio.” “Is that an order?” I asked. Rick’s eyes twinkled. “That’s an order, my man.” Rick’s aptitude for leisure permeated the thick stuccoed walls of the vast 1912 Mediterranean villa. Even his original purchase, more a rescue, really, spoke to his disarming ease. In the 1980s, when Orange County’s government had decided to demolish this beautiful but crumbling structure, Rickey read about it, called the realtor, and paid a visit. It was nighttime, and as they turned into the driveway with its enormous iron gates and stone pillars, Rickey told the realtor, “I’ll take it, my man. Hand me the papers.” “But you haven’t seen the house yet,” the realtor remonstrated, clearly not clued in to Rick’s deceptively quiet brand of decisiveness. “My man, pull the car over and hand me the papers.” Rick then moved into the 30,000-square-foot mansion — no heat, no working plumbing, little working electricity — and embarked upon two decades of historic restoration with the help of his many tradesman friends. He’d get that familiar, thousand-yard smile when he’d recount his months of camping out in the dilapidated grand dining room. I imagine what Rick thought, back then, walking down the hill to the reservoir for fresh water, cooking on a gas grill, gazing at the high ceilings, the marble columns, and out over the great lawns, knowing that it was all his. After a decade or so of enjoying the bachelor’s dream at Glenmere, Rick met Radka, a radiant, brilliant and incomparably strong couture model, at her 25th Street fashion studio in Manhattan. Soon after, the din of seemingly eternal Glenmere bacchanalia ceased, and the all-night crackle of gravel from cars and motorcycles ascending the long driveway was silenced. Rick found true joy and peace in Radka’s fortifying presence, and he inherited two vivacious step-daughters in the bargain. Soon Adam came along, and Rick found his greatest pleasure, by far, in being a dad. It was comforting to note that Rick’s service Monday night wasn’t the sort of morose affair that would be associated with an intractable playboy, but rather a gathering of family, friends, and what appeared to be the entire Warwick High School track team, in support of Jacqueline, Jeanette and Adam. The service spoke to the man — the husband, the father — that Rickey had become, as well as to the friend he’d been to so many of us.