Eleanor Tobis Silverman: A Short Biography

Eleanor Tobis Silverman has five great passions that animate her long and full life: Her husband of almost 70 years, Sidney I. Silverman; her family to whom she is devoted; her profession as a speech and language pathologist and teacher; the arts in all their forms, particularly music; and a commitment to civic engagement and a civil society. 

Eleanor Sylvia Tobis was born September 16, 1918 in Syracuse, NY, daughter of David Tobis, from Rumania, and Anna Feinberg Tobis, from Philadelphia.  She was the middle child between two brothers she adored, Jerome and Marvin.

Raised in Syracuse and then Brooklyn, Eleanor attended New Utrecht High School where she was in the Madrigal Society and sang with famed maestro Peter Wilhousky.  At Hunter College, she majored in German and minored in Speech Pathology.  In high school and college, she was active in student government, working for social justice.  At Hunter College, she was President of the American Student Union.

In her sophomore year of college, she met the love of her life, Sidney Israel Silverman (1913-2009), a dentist and later a professor and chair of prosthodontics at New York University (NYU).  They married on June 9, 1940, at the Jewish Community House in Brooklyn, shortly after Eleanor’s college graduation. 

The newlyweds lived in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, but shortly after their marriage, America entered WWII.  Sidney served as a Captain in the Army, stationed in Virginia, where he oversaw dental services for soldiers going abroad.  Eleanor joined him in Virginia, returning to New York to give birth to their son, Mark in1943, and 17 months later to give birth to their daughter, Beth in 1944. 

After WWII, they returned to Bensonhurst, where Sidney had a dental practice and they had their home.  After a two-year battle with leukemia, their precious son Mark died.  In 1948, Eleanor and Sidney welcomed their daughter Deborah.  Eleanor returned to school, attending Brooklyn College for a Master’s degree in Speech Pathology.  

In 1955, Sidney moved his dental practice to Manhattan and the family moved their home to Great Neck, NY.  Within months after the move, Eleanor and Sidney lost their infant son Eric Alan, shortly after his birth.

Eleanor opened a private speech pathology practice in their home, seeing young children with cleft palate, cleft lip, and stutter and older adults with aphasia. Over time, Eleanor served as a speech pathologist to local public schools and taught speech and language at Hofstra College.  She became active in the North Shore Child Guidance Association, serving as Program Chair for speakers on child advocacy.  For her successful leadership in organizing a major child advocacy conference, the Superintendent of Schools invited her to serve on the Board.  She also served on the Nassau County Department of Health Advisory Committee and the Economic Opportunity Council.

Eleanor has a life-long love of the arts, particularly music.  In the 1950’s and 60’s, she sang with Dessoff Choirs.  She and Sidney were regular attendees at the Metropolitan Opera, and all her life, Eleanor sang lieder to her children and grandchildren. Eleanor and Sidney also worked together at the North Shore Community Arts Center, interacting with local artists. 

Eleanor was appointed Director of the first Speech and Hearing Clinic in the school of dentistry at New York University, often working in collaboration with Sidney.  For 10 years, Eleanor was an assistant research professor and taught college classes in Speech.  In later years, she taught in the Department of Neurology in the NYU Medical School, bringing insights into speech and language to medical students. 

Over the years, Eleanor and Sidney welcomed Deborah’s husband, Tom DeZure, and Beth’s husband, David Yam.  They joyfully welcomed their four grandchildren and their spouses, and their eight great grandchildren. Each new addition brought new constellations of loving relatives to the family who were all embraced with open arms. 

In their years since retirement, Sidney and Eleanor endowed many scholarships, including the Eleanor T. Silverman Award for Speech and Language Pathology to recognize the work of neurology students in the NYU Medical School who conduct research into the connection between speech and language disorders and neurological function. 

In 2009, after almost 70 years of marriage, Eleanor lost the love of her life, Sidney, who passed away at the age of 96.  After his passing, Eleanor was an inspirational model of resilience. 

Eleanor continued her love of the arts and was an avid devotee of cultural events, giving special meaning to the term, “life-long learner.”  In recent years, Eleanor participated in Dorot classes conducted by conference call for seniors on topics ranging from politics to the arts.  Eleanor begins each day reading her beloved New York Times, enabling her to engage in in-depth discussions on issues from scientific discoveries to world and local politics, with particular attention to the editorials. 

But a picture of Eleanor’s life would not be complete without mention of her devotion to her family, particularly her daughters. Her family is central to her life, revealing her infinite capacity to love and to welcome each new family member and each new generation, including her great-grandchildren, into the circle of her love and life.  

Eleanor’s life is remarkable in so many ways: certainly for its longevity, but even more so for her resilience and capacity to live fully, waking up each day ready to build new relationships and find great meaning in them.  It is no accident that one of her favorite quotes, and she has many, is Ben Jonson’s “Speak that I may know thee,” because it is key to how she lives her life and interacts with others.  She is always eager to hear, know and understand others, enabling her to empathize with and support them.  Surely, it is one of the reasons that at the age of 102, she has so many devoted family members and friends, old and new.