For my last article about my family, I will write about the person who was my role model, my hero. He was my brother, Neil Leist.
Neil was the type of person who lit up a room when he entered it. He was 6’2”, but not his height drew people but his dynamic personality. Sparkling gray eyes mirrored his great intellect and future capacity for greatness. When my father wasn’t home but working long days and nights driving a taxi, my brother cared for my blind mother and helped raise me. Neil protected me from life and responsibilities, shouldering those burdens himself.
After college, Neil traded on the Commodity Exchange until he acquired enough money to take over a Fortune 500 company, becoming the majority stockholder in American Bakeries. Taystee Bread was never going to be the same. The picture above shows Neil with Mayor Koch as they negotiated for a factory in Queens. Neil had taken me along on his ride to stardom. I’d worked for him during my summer vacations from college, first in his Madison Avenue, Manhattan office, and then later on the Exchange. I majored in Finance at New York University, preparing to join him. Life was perfect until the phone rang in the middle of the night.
The lights went out for me, trapping me in darkness as dark and deep as the one where my mother lived. Neil had been in a car accident in the Hamptons. Even though he was a great driver with quick reflexes, his Porsche hydroplaned on the wet roads, and he drove the car off the highway and onto the grass. Luck wasn’t with him. A truck was parked in his path, and the Porsche crashed beneath it.
Neil was in a coma for two years before he passed away. His brutal ending wasn’t appropriate for the great man he was. He will always live in memories, and when I need comfort, I picture myself wrapped in his arms.
Please wash away my sorrow and pain. Let it flow down the streets with the rain, Dissolved in torrents of despair and sadness, Joining others on its way past the madness.
The ocean may take it far away, To places, we cannot even say, Where no one recognizes its sting Or knows the infliction it can bring.
Let the rain grow harder with its might, Becoming hail on this fateful night. I want to be free of all traces Of unwanted feelings and faces.
My body grows cold from the rain. I stand clean and free from the pain. Shivers create a path down my spine As I wait in the dark woods of pine. I hold my head high to the wet spray. It becomes a mist of blue and gray. The faucet has turned off for the night, Leaving me feeling clean and all right.
Yesterday, I met a famous photographer, Tony Vaccaro, who had photographed my brother in 1981. It was a year before my brother’s car accident. After two years in a coma, Neil passed. I’m more determined than ever to write a book on my brother’s life. Tony took photos of Presidents Kennedy, Obama, and Nixon. Famous stars like Sophia Lauren. Artists like Picasso and Georgia O’Keefe. And my brother, Neil Leist. Neil had just become the CEO and President of American Bakeries. He made his fortune in the commodities markets and was on his way to the top. The accident ended his dreams and mine.
This isn’t the photo taken by Tony Vaccaro. This photograph is the last one I have of my brother.