Update: A memorial for Debby Friedman will take place on Sunday, February 11, 2024, from 1:30 to 3:30 pm at 160 East 38 St. New York, NY 10016. Enter at the lobby and ask for directions to the memorial. Those planning to attend should notify Bob Breuer at [email protected] or 917-768-1952. Those wishing to make a donation in Debby's memory may go to this link: http://mskcc.convio.net/goto/DeborahFriedman
Editor's Note: The following obituary (with the exception of a statement from Ken Martin of the APS) was originally published by the Collectors Club of New York.
Debby Friedman, who was widely admired not just for her expertise and dedication to Latin American philately and aerophilately, but also for her tireless efforts to encourage and mentor youth and beginner collectors, passed away at her home in New York on Oct. 22. She was 77.
Her success as a collector and exhibitor was widely acknowledged, and included gold medals at Ameripex 86, Stockholm 86 and Capex 87. She was the author of numerous articles on Colombian air, railroad and riverboat mail, postal stationery, postal history, revenue stamps and “cubiertas,” special labels applied to official mail. Her exhibit of cubiertas won an APS Research Award.
She first joined the Collectors Club in 1970, one of only a handful of women to do so at the time; she also belonged to the American Philatelic Society, the Royal Philatelic Society, London and numerous specialty groups. She was a co-founder in 1983 of Copaphil, the Colombia-Panama Philatelic Study Group, and served as its president for about 20 years.
According to Bob Breuer, her husband of 45 years, Friedman spent many hours over a span of years in the Collectors Club library researching books and journals to compile records of widely scattered references in her specialty area. That collection of bibliographic information became an important 2001 publication: A Philatelic Bibliography for Colombia and Panama, 1865-1999. She followed up its publication with presentations of her findings at several shows.
Her collection of Colombian airmail postal history was offered in 2007 in a “name” sale by Cherrystone Auctions. In 2011, the APS honored her with its Kehr Award for contributions that help guarantee the future of the hobby.
Those contributions included leading regular programs of teen and beginner-adult groups that met at the Collectors Club in Manhattan, for which Friedman was awarded the club’s President’s Medal not once but twice, under successive leaders. She and Breuer would visit scout troops in New York City to recruit young people for the group. One of the group’s alumni went on to become a Young Philatelic Leaders Fellow under the auspices of the American Philatelic Society and a couple of them exhibited at the Great American Stamp Show in Cleveland.
Deborah Friedman was born in the Bronx and raised in Peekskill, N.Y. She was a collector from an early age, and her stamp collecting developed into a major pursuit. Although her degree from the State University of New York at Albany was in education, she decided against a teaching career and instead joined the state Civil Service Department, helping localities around New York meet the requirements of civil service laws and prepare for testing and inspections.
She became president of her local stamp club in Troy, N.Y. while she was still in her 20s, although she was unable to join the more prestigious philatelic society in nearby Albany because, well into the 1970s, it still refused to admit women.
Breuer recalled that he and Friedman met in the mid-70s when both were working as greeters and tour guides for the state capital region in Albany. They began chatting while waiting for their respective tourists to arrive by bus, and she gave him her phone number.
“She was a very independent woman,” Breuer recalled. “She owned her own house, although she had trouble getting a mortgage because many banks at the time would not lend to single women.”
Friedman and Breuer married in 1978 and had one son, Harrison. After she retired in 2007, they moved to Manhattan.
One of her delights was bringing new people into the hobby. She started a youth stamp club at the Colonie, N.Y. library and ran it for 19 years until moving to New York City. There, she found that the youth group at the Collectors Club had fallen dormant, so she started her own group along the lines of the one she had run near Albany and persuaded the club to host it and provide a modest stipend. She would run it for over a decade, adding a parallel club for adults starting or returning to the hobby. Friedman was also tapped to oversee the youth area at World Stamp Show—NY 2016.
Perhaps her most remarkable “get” for the hobby was a casual acquaintance of hers named Ted Chapin, who was active in New York theater. When Friedman learned his full name, Theodore Steinway Chapin, a light went on. Wondering if there was anything he could share of his famous grandfather’s philatelic legacy, she invited Chapin to visit the Collectors Club, which he had never done before. Upon entering, he was greeted with his grandfather’s portrait. Friedman organized a special “Steinway night” in Oct. 2018, during which the Chapin brothers—Ted and Miles—brought a number of items from the family collection for show-and-tell and shared personal recollections of their grandfather. Friedman had uncovered a recording of a 1938 radio program, “Calling All Stamp Collectors,” in which the senior Steinway had talked about his collection of music on stamps, and excerpts were played at the meeting.
Recalling Friedman’s stamp group, Breuer reminisced that “she approached stamps creatively. She wasn’t just teaching people to fill spaces.” Often, meeting discussions were attuned to the news of the day. For example, during the Iraq war, Friedman would bring stamps of Iraq and retrieve reference books on Mesopotamia and Iraq from the philatelic library. “She encouraged the kids to tell stories about their stamps, pick the ones they liked and mount them on a page.” With her background in education, Friedman tried to instill stamps’ educational aspect in her charges.
Several of her youth- and adult-group alumni recently paid tribute to Debby online. One wrote: “Debby was always a kind and supportive mentor both in my interest in stamp collecting and my academic career from the time I was 12. I'll always carry fond memories of meetings with the youth stamp club she ran…”
Another wrote, “Her breadth of knowledge was incredible and each time we chatted I learned something new.”
According to her husband, Friedman also pursued a variety of things besides stamps. She amassed a collection of mid-century dinnerware, and another of 19th-century American patent models. An item from each of these collections was selected for inclusion in two separate exhibitions at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum.
“A 44-year member of the American Philatelic Society, Deborah was an accomplished philatelist,” said APS Director of Expertizing Ken Martin. “She worked extensively to promote the hobby to youth and encouraged their growth through exhibiting and programs such as the APS Young Philatelic Leaders Fellowship to cultivate them to be our future leaders. Her contributions to the hobby were significant and she will be missed.”
In addition to her husband, Debby is survived by her son, Harrison Breuer of Liberty Hill, Texas. Breuer has requested that in lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation in Deborah Friedman’s name to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center at: mskcc.convio.net/goto/DeborahFriedman