WELLFLEET — Bruce Drucker, who died at Cape Cod Hospital on April 7 at age 75, was at the pinnacle of his career as a lawyer 20 years ago. The managing partner at Rifkin Radler, a large New York firm, he decided to retire, a move that shocked his colleagues.
“Everyone thought he was crazy,” his daughter Bethany, also a lawyer, said this week. “But Dad really enjoyed life, the simple part. Walking year-round on the beach made him so happy.”
The Druckers sold their house in Lattingtown on Long Island and moved full-time to the home they had owned in Wellfleet since 1985, and Bruce never looked back. He helped his wife, Claudia, in her magnificent garden, they traveled the world scuba diving, he walked with friends every day, and he signed up for the zoning board of appeals, where his legal acumen, meticulous attention to detail, fairness, and sense of humor quickly made him an indispensable asset.
“Bruce hated being dressed up,” said Claudia this week. “He quit at 55 so he could live. Thank God he had those 20 years.”
The cause of death was the coronavirus, and the fact that it so rapidly killed Bruce Drucker, who had no underlying health problems, has been sobering news in this town.
“This was the man who ran around like the town crier,” said Claudia, “telling people they had to take it seriously.”
The source of the infection is unknown. Bruce and Claudia spent three and a half weeks in Brazil, returning in early February, but he did not exhibit symptoms of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, until the last week of March. Medical authorities say the incubation period, between exposure to the virus and the development of symptoms, is at most two weeks.
Bruce had fatigue, fever, and a cough for about one week, according to Bethany. On Friday, March 27, he felt bad enough that he went to Barnstable for a virus test.
“He had been in contact with our primary, who kept saying, ‘Just try the Tylenol,’ ” said Claudia. “On Monday the 30th, his cough was really bad. He was shaking and looked awful. His eyes were extremely red.” That night the test result came back positive.
On Tuesday morning, the Wellfleet Rescue Squad took Bruce to Cape Cod Hospital, where he was admitted into intensive care. At about 4 p.m., Claudia said, Bruce texted her that he was going to be intubated and put on a ventilator.
“During the procedure of intubating him, he totally went downhill,” said Claudia. “I never was able to speak with him again.”
Bruce Drucker was born on Oct. 21, 1944, in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Dorothy Ratzenberg and Aaron Drucker. They moved to Rego Park, Queens, and Bruce graduated from Forest Hills High School before attending Clark University. His aunts were artists who frequented Provincetown, and from a young age Bruce developed a passion for the Outer Cape.
After Clark, Bruce went to SUNY Law School in Buffalo, where he met Claudia Kowal in the law library. “I was the first sex education major at SUNY,” she said. They were married three months later, and Bruce received his J.D. degree in May 1968. The couple lived in Albany, Buffalo, and Chicago, where Bruce co-founded a law firm, before moving to Long Island.
“My dad had a tremendous moral compass,” said Bethany. “His cousin, Jack Drucker, was a hit man for the mob. My dad grew up seeing the shady side of things, so he always was careful to do things right. He had a wicked temper, too — a very strong-willed person.”
Bruce served for years as vice chair of the zoning board. He and the late Roger Putnam, who was longtime chair, made a formidable team. When Putnam died last June, Sharon Inger agreed to become the chair.
“I am devastated by this loss,” Inger said this week. “He was my rock on the board, my go-to guy for all the hard questions. Taking the chairmanship was possible for me only because I had Bruce to guide me. He brought just the right note of levity when things got tough, but he could be stern when he felt that something was not right. I actually cannot imagine how we will cope without him.”
“Bruce had a brilliant legal mind, and he was generous with his knowledge and his time,” said Jan Morrissey, another board member. “He was approachable, encouraging, confident, eloquent, funny, fair-minded, a leader, and a teacher. The ZBA has lost its cornerstone.”
In the early morning hours of April 7, the hospital called Claudia to say that Bruce’s heart had crashed. CPR had brought him back, but the outlook was grave. She had tested negative for the virus, and she asked if she could be allowed to come to the hospital and be with him at the end. Hospital management agreed.
“Cape Cod Hospital was great,” she said. “Jim Hood drove me there, and he stayed in the car, sobbing. I went in, and the security guard said, ‘You’re Claudia, aren’t you?’ I spent the last half hour with him. That made a huge difference.”
Bruce is survived by Claudia, his wife of 52 years, and by his daughters, Rachel and Bethany, and his grandchildren, Kurt and Veronica Beyler, all of Chicago.
A private burial was held on April 9. A celebration of Bruce’s life will take place at a date still to be set. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Bruce’s name to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (www.ifaw.org).
Bethany Drucker reflected on the difficult truth of this virus.
“This wasn’t a man who was naive,” she said. “He wasn’t going to Disney World on spring break. It truly is a virus that spreads much faster and much easier than anyone understands. You can have a very healthy immune system and it attacks itself. That’s what happened to my dad.”