Remembering Grace W. Weinstein, 1935-2012

ASJA president, 1979-1981

Grace Weinstein passed away, at age 76, in early August of this year, not long after moving with her husband to Virginia Beach, Virginia. She is survived by her husband, Stephen; by her children, Lawrence Weinstein and Janet Mercadante, both of Virginia Beach; by a brother, Ellis Wohlner, of Sweden; and by four grandchildren.

The former New York, New York and Englewood, New Jersey writer had fought off breast cancer for 26 years, never slowed down and rarely mentioned her health issues. “Some people let everyone pamper them,” Stephen Weinstein said, “but Grace worked every day, and she did have about 17 years of being cancer-free.”

“I was so sorry to hear about our loss of Grace, and shocked, since I had spoken to her shortly before she and her husband, Steve, moved to Virginia,” Sally Wendkos Olds recalled. “She said nothing about her health problems, as she had said nothing over the years while she continued to work and be active despite them. Grace and I go back many years to Society of Magazine Writer days and to Saturday morning picnics at Tanglewood with the Berkshires/New England chapter. ASJA and our members meant a great deal to her, and she always had a wise and sensible solution to the various issues that arose.

“I always admired Grace for her considerable expertise and her ability to translate it into terms that even financial dummies like me could understand,” Olds said. “I always liked her company too, her ready smile, and the times over the years when we got together as a foursome, with our husbands.”

Grace Wohlner received an English degree from Cornell University and shortly after married architect Stephen Weinstein. Though she worked early on as a writer for an insurance company she took up writing again after their children were old enough to not need constant attention. “After the children were born, she got bored very quickly sitting on the park bench,” Stephen recalled.

Grace found a job writing PR materials and made the contacts that led her into a career of writing about tax and estate planning, personal finance, retirement, and corporate issues. Through a long career she developed skills in writing annual reports, advertorials, articles, books, brochures, corporate consulting, editing, media tours, newsletters, seminar development, speeches, web content, and white papers. She was published in magazines including Creative Living, Financial Times, Good Housekeeping, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Wealth Manager, and many others.

But Grace never slowed down. Known for her skill in translating financial jargon into readable and entertaining prose, she also wrote more than a dozen books, including The Procrastinator’s Guide to Taxes Made Easy; J.K. Lasser’s Winning with Your 401(K); Complete Idiot’s Guide to Tax-Free Investing; Financial Savvy for the Self-Employed; The Lifetime Book of Money Management (a 658-page tome that became a Book-of-the-Month Club selection); Men, Women & Money: New Roles, New Rules; and others.

Along the way Grace worked as a columnist for The Financial Times and Investor’s Business Daily and as an editor for Money Matters newsletter. She provided Web content for organizations ranging from the Insurance Information Institute to the National Foundation for Financial Education. In fact, Grace became so prominent in the financial field that she was asked to be a member of the Consumer Advisory Council of the Federal Reserve Board.

“She was a workaholic and she had the work to go along with it,” Stephen Weinstein recalled. “She was always working on two, three, four things at a time. What impressed me was that so many people told me they had absolutely no idea how successful she was. She never made a thing of it, never put it in anybody’s face. That was just who she was.”

“Grace Weinstein was a strong, smart, funny, level-headed, and energetic woman who brought all of those qualities to bear every time she interacted with ASJA,” said ASJA Executive Director Alexandra Owens. “And that was plenty: In addition to being a president (though before my time), Grace was integral in organizing our Professional Symposia for Financial Planners back in the 1990s, and served as a longtime Board member and officer for the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund. On the Past Presidents Committee and in all her other roles, she could always be counted on to take the wise course, the smart tack, and do it with her trademark straightforward approach. I treasured her for that.”

Grace not only joined ASJA in the 1970s before it was ASJA but she held the organization close to her heart all her life. She served as president in 1979-1981, becoming the first two-term president. Bonnie Remsberg recalled how Grace dealt with one dispute as president:

“I made the naive suggestion (we were using the telephone for communication back then, can you imagine?) that we all sit down in the same room and talk it out, face to face. That’s all it took. Grace grabbed that ball and ran with it. And that, boys and girls, is how the annual meeting was born. Grace presided … and, as you all know, the annual meeting has evolved into one of the most valuable perks of membership.”

Stephen Weinberg remembered that time vividly. “It was a really tough time, a time when groups wanted to break away, and I remember her telling me how one of her friends came up to her and said, ‘you really need a shoulder to cry on.’ I think ASJA was better for her having been president at that time. She was not wishy-washy at all.”

Katie Fishman recalled happy times shared with the Weinstein family. “While Grace was known in ASJA, accurately, as an impressive financial writer, what will remain with me are the good times my husband and I had with the Weinsteins. The four of us were good friends: We traveled together to Egypt and to Patagonia. Every summer we’d go up to their cabin in the Berkshires, hike in the woods, swim in the lake, and pop over to Jacob’s Pillow, the dance theater they supported with great devotion. They loved museums and crafts fairs and theater and interesting restaurants. They gave generously to the charities that interested them. They traveled (not just with us). And of course, they enjoyed their children and grandchildren who, by a great stroke of fortune, settled in the same town, Virginia Beach, a bit exotic at first to New Jerseyites and New Yorkers, but finally the place Grace and Steve moved off to. So she didn’t live long enough, but the life she had was full of variety and pleasure, as well as accomplishment.”

In 2011 the ASJA honored Grace Weinstein with its Lifetime Achievement Award. Sally Wendkos Olds noted at the time Grace’s extensive writing and public service career and added, “Her interest in psychology and the development of attitudes toward money has led to exploring this vital connection in articles and books, and thereby fulfilling the main criteria for the Career Achievement Award, the ability to tell a story and the style, range, and diversity of career that exemplify the profession of independent nonfiction writer.”

In accepting ASJA’s Lifetime Achievement award, Grace said, “ASJA has always meant so much to me, not only for professional guidance over the decades, but for the solid long-lasting friendships it has generated, that it’s hard to express just how meaningful this award is to me. I never thought I’d be standing in this spot, accepting one of the most important awards my colleagues can give. I am humbled and touched beyond words.”

Grace also strongly supported the Llewellen Miller Fund, which later became the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund (WEAF), and helped whenever asked.

“She was an extremely generous supporter and long time board member of the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund,” Lisa Collier Cool recalls. “We shall not look upon her like again and I am very saddened by the death of this remarkable woman who has done so much for our organization.”

“As a long-time board member, Grace was always a generous contributor to WEAF,” says Paula Dranov, WEAF’s current chair. “But we were stunned to learn that she had made a $50,000 bequest to WEAF, which we will receive in $10,000 increments over the next five years. When I think about Grace’s commitment to WEAF, I realize that she raised our game and kept us focused on our mission and our standards. She was the best friend writers in financial need could have. She was – and remains – an inspiration. We will miss her.”

And we will close on this remarkable life by letting Grace have the last say. Grace has asked that she be remembered by donations to Memorial Sloan-Kettering for Dr. Larry Norton’s breast cancer research or to the Writer’s Emergency Assistance Fund (WEAF).

“I’ve seen how much difference a relatively small amount of money can make in turning lives around,” Grace once wrote. “Helping WEAF is one of the most meaningful things I’ve done. If you haven’t contributed yet, now is a good time to do so.”