A Tribute to Burton Farbman, the Great Love of My Life, a Pillar of Detroit and a Patriarch to Our Family

A Farbman family dinner in 2008. From left to right at top: David and Nadine Farbman, Amy Farbman, Michael Towbes and Anne Smith Towbes (Anne is Suzy’s sister); and below, left to right: Burt, Suzy and Andy Farbman

The regular readers already know my husband Burton Farbman from countless columns over many years. On July 1, 2023, he died at age 80. This column is from the eulogy I shared for him:

Burton and I had the most romantic first date ever. We met on a blind date in January, 1966, my senior year at the University of Michigan. We were introduced by my roommate Vicki, then dating Burton’s best and oldest friend, Michael Kramer. Burton and I drove downtown to see the gloriously romantic movie, Dr. Zhivago. Then to Franklin Hills Country Club for ice skating on the frozen pond and—a first for my prudish self on a first date—our first kiss, initiated by moi.

We married in 1967. After renting a duplex across from Palmer Park, we lived in homes in Huntington Woods and Franklin. From our mid-50s on, we’ve spent winters at Laurel Oak, a great golf course community in Sarasota, FL. We spent summers in Charlevoix, MI—aka God’s Country. We’re blessed with dear friends wherever we’ve lived.

As with many long-term marriages, we’ve had our ups and downs. A major low point for me was being diagnosed with stage IV uterine cancer when I was 60. Burton was my incredible medical advocate. When I recovered, Burton—who always thought big and was generous to a fault—planned two surprise birthday parties for me on the same weekend. The first, at our home in Sarasota; the next night, in Detroit. For my Detroit surprise party, Burton included all the doctors and nurses who’d been part of my cancer treatment.

At my Detroit party, Burton did something else memorable.

A couple of months before my cancer diagnosis, I’d published a book about surviving a marriage crisis. I believed our story could help others. Burton was far from thrilled about the book, but he let me proceed. Our whole family appeared on Oprah in 2004. Maybe Burton agreed our story could help others. Maybe he just figured it was cheaper than a divorce. In any case, appearing on the Oprah Show was the media equivalent of Burton’s taking a bullet for me.

When my first book was endorsed by Oprah, I thought I’d receive dozens of calls congratulating me.

Wrong. Our phone went dead.

A few weeks later, when I was diagnosed with cancer, whoever didn’t call with our first crisis besieged us. We received so much support that Burton hired two college students just to answer phones, keep track of donations, and send thank you notes. God willing, in three weeks, I’ll celebrate 19 years cancer free.

At my second surprise party, Burton showed a video about me. In it, videographer Jeff Schoenberg asks about my first book, the one that deep-sixed our social standing. Burton says, “Well, Jeff, Suzy always wanted to write a memoir, but she thought her life wasn’t interesting enough.” Burton looks into the camera and deadpans, “I don’t expect you to thank me, Suzy. But I did it for you.”

Burton’s remark brought the house down. The ballroom erupted in laughter. For a subject that had caused whispers, eye rolls and radio silence, it broke the ice and helped everyone move on.

The way Burton handled my first book said so much about him. He was funny, gentle and loving when he could be; tough when he had to be. Many of you have seen him in action. He was a force in business and in activities he loved.

CNS lymphoma and brain surgery took away Burton’s adored golf game, his love of driving, his ability to cast a fly rod or shoot a gun or ride a horse. But it didn’t take away his love of our family or of gazing out at our beautiful farm fields up north. Or watching our grandkids jump on our in-ground trampolines or our sons’ bloody competitions at shuffleboard.

And it didn’t take away our love for each other. Burton was my husband, my protector, my provider, my best friend, my Jewish cowboy and my hero. In the last five years, supported by our adored aides Angela and Chris (and earlier, Fayez), Burton never once complained or moaned: why me? He worried more about family and friends than he did about himself.

I’m relieved this great patriot, patriarch, businessman, philanthropist, husband, family man and friend is no longer suffering. But I’ll miss him every day of my life.

Burton was a staunch supporter of Detroit and Detroit-made cars. He bought his first Cadillac at 29, and drove Cadillacs ever since. I’m glad the van that came to the farm to carry him to
eternity, by way of  Ira Kaufman, was American made.

Burton David Farbman, I’ll always love you. You gave me the courage to go for it in my career and the genes to give birth to two terrific sons who married two terrific women who produced seven terrific grandkids.

You were the wind beneath all of our wings.


When I concluded my eulogy, Temple Beth El Cantor Rachel Gottlieb Kalmowitz sang Wind Beneath My Wings.


Burton with Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, when a third tower was announced for Detroit’s Riverfront Towers. The towers became home to many Detroit notables, including Young himself, Aretha Franklin and Rosa Parks.

With developers Max Fisher (at the microphone) and Al Taubman at the opening of the third tower of Riverfront Towers.

Burton and our son David.

Burton and our son Andy.

Celebrating with our son David (right) on his 30th birthday in Charlevoix in 2001.

Burt loved entertaining kids with activities including hay rides at Timber Ridge

Burt was an avid photographer. He mounted two shows of his work as fundraisers for a branch of the YMCA, where he served as the Y’s first Jewish chairman, and for the Detroit Zoo, where he served as commissioner for over 20 years. This show was in 2001.

Burt riding his favorite horse TR.


The service can be viewed at the Ira Kaufman Funeral Home website.

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One thought on “A Tribute to Burton Farbman, the Great Love of My Life, a Pillar of Detroit and a Patriarch to Our Family

  1. Nancy Shapiro

    Hearing you speak this at the funeral and now reading it, why are my eyes still moist? Beautifully written, emotional and honest in your own words. Ending it with “the wind beneath my wings” could not have been more perfect! Sadly but true, Burt’s illness brought our two families closer.
    Love you, Love Burt!

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