My beautiful cousin, Julia Forman, died from a brain aneurysm on Dec. 1 in New York City. She was just 34.
She died a little over a year after she was married in one of the most memorable weddings I have ever attended, at a yacht club along the East River. For me, her wedding traces a series of family gatherings dating back to the late 1970s.
Julia’s aunt, Dr. Amy (Forman) Taub, says Julia was a genuine soul, the kind of person you would have to get to know one-on-one. She loved dance, acting, and the performing arts, but she was also someone who had to overcome her share of obstacles. Her father, my first cousin, Dr. Herbert Forman, died at age 53 from colon cancer when Julia was just 16.
Julia and I were not close – both in terms of age (I’m 20 years older) and location – but we were not strangers, either. I grew up in Revere and live in Swampscott, and Julia and her older brother, Josh, grew up on the North Side of Chicago. She was the granddaughter of my beloved late Uncle Max, my late father’s brother, and my beloved late Aunt Martha.
Dr. Max Forman was a well-regarded psychiatrist who specialized in parental loss (his mother – my grandmother – died in child birth when he was young). Max grew up and was close with my late father, Hyman, in a large family in Revere.
After World War II, Max and Martha settled in Chicago as Max was assigned to the University of Illinois Medical School through the GI Bill, which paid college costs for returning veterans. Also, Max’s chosen field of psychoanalysis was more robust in Chicago than in San Francisco, where he met Martha when he was stationed there while serving in the Navy.
After growing up in the Chicago area, Julia eventually put down roots in New York City, where she earned a master’s degree in education and social policy from New York University.
She was considered a “rising star” in education policy, becoming deputy director for career readiness at New Visions for Public Schools, which works to improve education for New York City’s highest need students. New
Visions leaders described Julia as “a fierce advocate for underserved students.” The group is establishing a scholarship in her name.
She served as a government relations co-chair on the New York State Association for College Admission Counseling Executive Board, and legislative sessions co-chair on the association’s Conference Steering Committee, work for which she and her co-chair won the Rising Star Award in 2020.
I got to know Julia’s brother, Josh, over the years after he came east to attend Harvard, and who now lives with his wife and two young daughters in Winchester.
Today, Julia’s mother, Patricia Forman Powell, lives in Wakefield with her husband, but I first met Pat in 1979, when the entire Forman clan descended on Chicago for her wedding to cousin Herb, which coincided with a blizzard that shut down O’Hare Airport for a couple of days. I missed two days of school before we could get a flight out, but it wasn’t that bad for this seventh-grader.
We stayed in the Ambassador East hotel (now the Ambassador Chicago), in which was located the swanky restaurant called The Pump Room, where Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe once dined, and where the waiters would fill your water glass if you glanced at it the wrong way. I dined on filet mignon for three nights in a row.
Fast forward to Sept. 1, 2019, when we attended another joyous and memorable Chicago wedding, that of Amy Taub’s son, Zachary, and his bride, Hannah. That’s where we met up with Julia and her fiancé, John Latella, about a month before their marriage.
In fact, the Taubs had booked the wedding party into the very same hotel where Pat and Herb’s snowbound wedding took place 41 years ago.
The next day, we all said our “goodbyes” in Chicago and looked forward to meeting up at Julia and John’s wedding in New York City in a little over a month.
On Oct. 5, 2019, before the world shut down because of the coronavirus, my wife, Larisa, and I attended the wedding at The Water Club on 500 East 30th St.
It was a memorable wedding on many levels, including the stunning views of the East River at sunset. The couple was married in a nondenominational ceremony by a New York judge who was a friend of John’s family.
They were introduced with songs from musicals due to their love of theater and their dates to shows. Julia’s brother, Josh, walked the beautiful bride down the aisle. His daughters served as flower girls.
During the after-dinner speeches, in a nod to Julia’s Jewish family background on her father’s side, John’s mother, Roma, and father, John, sang and danced to a rendition of the wedding celebration song, “L’chaim,” from “Fiddler on the Roof.”
“To life, to life, l’chaim!” they sang. “L’chaim, l’chaim, to life!”
After the wedding was over, my wife and I headed out into the cold to hail a cab, and there was John’s family. We complimented his mother on their Tevye performance, and then, unable to hail a cab, Larisa and I walked over the highway in the freezing cold to catch one on the other side back to our hotel.
We didn’t make it to the wedding brunch the next day, but chose to drive home to Massachusetts early. We figured with the couple living in New York City, we would see them again soon enough. We never thought the world would shut down due to a pandemic. And we certainly never thought that Julia’s wonderful, genuine and heartfelt wedding would be the last time we would ever see her smile.
“To life, to life, l’chaim.”
The families are planning memorial services to Julia in New York and Chicago when they can safely do so.