Bert Toppel, one of my husband’s colleagues, recently passed at 97. We shared many fond memories with Bert and his late wife, Leona. They once stepped in to help us comfort our hysterical two-year-old. Amanda got her long hair plastered to her back with solidified errant pancake syrup—pulling her hair loose was painful.
Bert was an accomplished scientist at Argonne Laboratory and authored and co-authored over 110 published scientific papers and journal articles. Some of his science is still used twenty years after his retirement.
With all his accolades, his greatest joy was being Leona’s mate. Bert had great pride and joy in the accomplishments of his wife of 68 years. Leona was a housewife and mother of three girls, but at one point, she had the nerve to share her wicked humor with professional comedians. By the time we met, Leona was a regular contributor to Bob Hope and Phyllis Diller.
After she learned I was an actress, she started sharing her personality outside of writing. She took up being an extra in films and commercials but got upgraded to a day player in the movie, Dennis the Menace, from which her family still collects residuals. After Bert’s retirement, he chauffeured Leona to auditions. Her book PAT, a PINCH, a PECK: MY ADVENTURES IN THE MOVIES, emerged from her many years as an on-camera extra. And yes, she patted Tom Cruise, Paul Newman, and Sylvester Stallone on set.
Bert’s life epitomizes Barbara Bush’s statement at a commencement in 1990 at Wellesley College. “At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.”
Bert Toppel was a father, grandfather, scientist, friend, and neighbor but most of all, this shy, devoted man was husband to his spark plug wife, Leona.