Eric Treisman, Attorney, Tibetan Activist, Linguist, Scholar, and Author, Taken off of Life Support after Heart Attack, Passes On After 4 Day Coma, an Oscar Schindler figure for many Tibetans in the US
Dartmouth undergrad and Stanford Law School Grad, Eric Treisman is with us no longer. A few days after his second divorce was finalized, he had a massive heart attack, went into a coma for four days, and cat scans and MRI's showed little cerebral activity, except for the frontal lobe.
He was well known in many circles, especially the supporters of Tibetan
political causes and in the Democratic party for those who remember his 1996 run for the United States Senate nomination, which he lost to Art Trujillo, who then lost to incumbent Senator Pete Domenici. Treisman was a very early campaigner for the Space Port in Southern New Mexico. He was the personal lawyer for Paljor Thondup, founder of Project Tibet on Canyon Road, and for many years, Eric had his law office there at Project Tibet.
Before coming to Santa Fe in the late 70's, after finishing at Stanford,
he served as legal aide working for DNA Legal Services in Window Rock
Arizona, and he also worked in Alaska to help set up the Native Alaskan
Corporation, a tribal entity that benefits Eskimos and Innuit people.
He leaves behind a son from his first marriage, Zach Treisman, 33, and two young sons from his second marriage, Alexander, 8, and Aaron, 4. These two boys were the object of a fierce custody component in the divorce proceedings; Eric fought hard for the custody at a high price financially, and of course clearly a high price in terms of stress on his already overloaded heart.
His mother, Doris, an 86 year old social worker and psychotherapist, flew from the Bay Area to Santa Fe to be with the family and his close friends during his last moments.
With his sardonic humor, scathing wit, and uncannily high intelligence, Eric Treisman touched many lives as a most untypical lawyer. He took on
immigration cases for Tibetans, many times on a pro bono basis, did commercial litigation, and had one very long case that took almost twenty years regarding a thorough clarification of the fiscal relationship between tribes and the Department of Interior, a case he shared with his friend and colleague, Mike Gross.
Treisman's literary efforts included a stint at being Contributing Editor at Harper's starting when he was about thirty. He also published articles in the Rolling Stone and one in the Wall Street Journal described his ascent of the highest peak in the Caucasus Mountains.
Treisman was the most serious traveler and dedicated polyglot I have ever known; he had a working knowledge of Russian, Navajo, Tibetan, Hindi, Nepali, Chinese, and several European languages. He once hitch-hiked from the farthest outpost in western China, Chengdu, overland to the capitol of Tibet, Lhasa, arriving right in the middle of the 1992 "crackdown" instigated by the present President of China, Hu Jin Tao. He said that journey was something like a "1500 mile stretch resembling Upper Cerro Gordo Road" in Santa Fe; he filmed that adventure and many others, like to Japan, to the Copper Canyon in Mexico, mountain climbing all over the world (I believe he had made ascents of the highest peaks in 5 out of 7 continents). I saw the video and slide show of his circumambulation of Annapurna in Nepal.
Without delving into the irregularities and contradictions of how and why
a serious exerciser, hiker, and mountain climber could not only develop high
cholesterol, but extreme enough stress to have a massive heart attack at home several days after his divorce was finalized, in his own yard, and then be left alone enough long enough to destroy his ultra-fine brain: these are
questions for others to answer.
The Tibetan community lost a deep and important friend last year in the
tragic death by inebriated hit and run driver, with the passing of Lobsang
Lhalungpa. Almost a year later, we have lost another literally towering figure in the struggle to help Tibet: Eric Treisman, who left his birth faith of
Judaism to help another afflicted people, the Tibetans, suffering from the
same kind of genocide, yet much quieter and perhaps more insidious, at the
hands of China. He had several personal audiences with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Santa Fe during his visit in 1992, and in Dharamsala.
He used some connections with the Bush family to arrange an unprecedented meeting in 1991 between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and George Bush I, over fierce objections from the Chinese, and this resulted in an agreement by the US Government to accept in 1992 5000 Tibetans as immigrants to the United States. Virtually all of the 200 Tibetans in New Mexico came in that wave.
There were many other efforts on Eric's part to help these disadvantaged people, which made me realize after he passed away the similarities between him and Oscar Schindler.
Treisman was the kind of lawyer, and there are few indeed, who would take
off from work to go for a ten mile run, or a nightly climb up Atalaya and
back, or if he felt like it, a flight with a Dutch prince in a biplane from
St. Petersburg, Russia all the way across 7000 miles of Russia, 200 miles a
day, in a primitive biplane, all the way to Vladivostock. He was proud of his
cameo appearance in Robert Redford's Milagro Beanfield War, his one stint at acting.
He was raised as a liberal Jew, delved deeply into Tibetan Buddhism, and
yet still remained a member of Leonard Helman's Congregation and Synagogue, where his second marriage took place.
The last time I saw him, only an impossibly short two weeks ago, Eric was
so excited about being the point man and host for an anniversary celebration of his graduating class at Dartmouth College.