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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
PALM BEACH COUNTY
INTERVIEWEE: Dr. Anita Opper-Schwarz
INTERVIEWER: Edythe Zuckerberg
DATE: December 30, 1981
This is Edythe Zuckerberg and I am interviewing Dr. Anita Opper-Schwarz
for Palm Beach County Federation Oral History.
F: Anita, tell me about where you were born and your early years.
0: I was born in Vienna, Austria, as the youngest daughter of Emilio Luizoba,
an Italian by birth, who had settled in Vienna after his marriage to Elsa
nee Tiring. They were cousins, and had gotten a release from the King of
Italy to get married, as my father was an Italian citizen. They were
married in Temple in the Central Synagogue, of Vienna, the Zeidenshteten
Temple and lived in Taborstrasse in a building that was owned by my grand-
father, who was a very well-known citizen, and a head of a big tailer
business, in Vienna, and also of a business that owned two department
stores; one in Turkey and one in what is now Istanbul and one in Cairo.
My father was a partner in the business and he did a lot of travelling.
We will go into that later. I have an older sister, by the name of Ellie,
who is eight years older than I am, and a brother, August, who is six years
older than I am, but who unfortunately died about seven years ago.
I was a pretty frail child and I got rheumatoid arthritis from which I
developed heart trouble. I was not allowed to walk, but was moved around
in a carriage until I was six years old, and afterwards I was only per-
mitted very restricted movement and play. Also I started school later
than I should have according to my age.
At the time of World War I starting, my father, who was an Italian citizen,
was afraid he would be interned in Austria and so he moved the family to
Zurich in Switzerland where we all went to school and stayed until the end
of World War I. After staying in Italy we returned to Vienna in 1920. I
was then at the age to start gymnasium which is the equivalent to junior
high school and high school and leads to the baccalaureate which is a
degree corresponding to two years of college. At that time, I had recovered
my health after my stay in Switzerland. I had been sent into the mountains
for two months, and after that I really became healthy. When we were coming
back from Vienna, I was considered completely healthy. My heart trouble had
disappeared and I was encouraged to do as much sport as possible. As a
child I had been always babied a lot by my parents, and in order to fight
that, I threw myself into all the sports activities that I possibly could.
I went skiing, skating, to gymnastics, dancing and was swimming even during
the winter months, (which was a rare thing at that time), and was very much
active in sports.
I then graduated from school with English and math as chosen subjects for
the baccalaureate, and then I entered university where I studied chemistry
and pharmacy and I got the Ph.D. Degree in Chemistry and the Masters Degree
in Pharmacy. I had always wanted to study medicine but, my mother, espec-
ially, was very much against it. Finally my father explained to me that
it would cause my mother very much distress if I were to study medicine. At
that time she thought that marriage possibilities were reduced for girls who
studied medicine. That wasn't the reason, so much that got me off that idea
of studying medicine, but as I had entered school earlier I realized that I
would be very old by the time I graduated from medical school. I had an
uncle whom I loved very much who was a medical doctor and who had promised
me that he was going to support me in my studies, and afterwards, which
was very necessary for a girl after medical school. But, I realized that
by the time I was finished in the school, he would be retired, and that is
really what caused me to give up the idea of medicine.
F: Anita, where did you attend university in Vienna?
0: In Vienna, I attended university in Vienna and I finished my studies in
Vienna and after I finished my studies, I absolutely wanted to work which
was a very difficult thing for a girl at that time. In Vienna in my genera-
tion, many, many more women studied, and prepared themselves for academic
careers, than I found when I came to America. The amount of girls who
graduated and got their Ph.D. degrees was much higher, and many did manage
to work, but it was usually the starting that was pretty difficult.
I ended up getting a job in a laboratory where there were fertilizers and
feed. I organized a laboratory and I worked in the laboratory until 1938,
which was about a year that I worked there. In 1938 I was dismissed like
all the Jewish people working in Austria at that time. After that my father
had already gone to Italy right after the occupation of Hitler of Austria.
We never did call it Anshluss. We did not believe that it was a friendly
relationship of one country coming to support the other, we felt that it was
a form of military occupation. After the occupation, or the invasion, of
the German forces in Austria, my father left the country immediately and I
stayed with my mother to pack our apartment and send it to Italy.
My father had gone to Italy in September of 1938 and Mussolini joined
Hitler's ideas to make anti-Jewish laws. I had had a very successful inter-
view in the Montecottini, which was the largest chemical corporation in
Italy at that time, and I took an exam there to work in the patent office as
a translator, I translated from English to French to Italian to German and
they were very delighted to find a person who could master the four languages
and the technical knowledge. However, I could not get a confirmation of an
appointment in the company and in the meantime the Jewish laws became
stricter so that I was never employed.
In October of 1938 we left Italy and went to France and later on we had our
furniture come from Italy to France, when my father took an apartment in
Paris. We were then joined by my sister, brother-in-law and her two child-
ren and we all lived in Paris for the time from 1938 on.
My sister and brother-in-law and her children later on got a visa for com-
ing to the United States. It had been my wish to join them, to come to the
United States also, but my father wanted to stay in Paris and wanted me to
stay there. I would have agreed to if it had been possible for me to get
employment, but according to the laws then we had the permission to live in
France but not to work in France.
I, therefore, went as a volunteer to the University of Paris and joined the
Hopital d' where I studied bacteriology, and worked in the bacteri-
ology department until the formal outbreak of the war. When war broke out
all the French people were immediately called into the army. One morning
I found myself alone in the laboratory as the only person who was doing any
work there, and soon I became automatically in charge.
After about two weeks the bombardment from Germany was feared, and my father
decided that we should go to a beach resort, where the probability of German
bombings would be minimal. I therefore had to tell the hospital that I was
going to leave. The nurse in charge, who was a nun, asked me in what capac-
ity I was working there, and as I was a volunteer she could not keep me. I
went with my parents to Cannes, and afterwards there came a law that all
aliens were going to have to stay in the place where they were found on a
certain date, and could not travel inside France. So, we had to go back to
Paris because we did not want to stay in a resort town. When I came back to
Paris about a week later,they did not even let me enter the hospital be-
cause I was an alien, and I couldn't get my books back.
F: That's quite an experience.
0: Then I did work as a volunteer in a laboratory of the Sorbonne with a doctor
who was doing cancer research, and it was just for me to have an occupation,
and to do something. After about a month, my father thought it was better
for him to join my sister and her family in America. As he was born in Italy,
he could get a visa immediately, because the Italian borders were free, but
I could not, because I was born in Vienna and I had to wait for my quota.
Fortunately, my father had money in England which he had placed there from
his international holdings, and so he could get capitalist visas for our
whole family. I had to stay in Paris to wait for my formal quota. My
brother, who had worked in Czechoslovakia and afterwards had been put in
charge of a business in Paris, was still in Paris, at that time. I stayed
with my brother the whole winter of 1939 in Paris, and when it looked as
if Italy was going to start joining the war, my brother was afraid that he
would be interned in France, and so we went skiing into the Alps and he had
the idea to go over to Switzerland. It then turned out that it was a scare
which was not acute at that moment, and so we both came back to Paris and I
got my visa to come to the United States in May of 1940, and I came and
joined my family here.
Just before leaving, there was the invasion of Hitler's forces of Holland and
Belgium, and the French roads coming from the north were crowded and all the
refugees were invading Paris and causing very great havoc in the city. They
were received in a friendly manner but they had difficulties in finding
At that time one had to get a special permit to leave Paris, which I received
through a gentleman my father had known who was in a high political office,
and who gave me that permission. Apparently that permission was not the
standard permission. When I got myself on the train to go to the boat which
was supposed to leave on a day of May from a port of France, I got on the
boat train. On the boat train-suddenly a policeman came looking at my papers,
and said that I was an alien, and I had no permission to be on that train
and wanted to get me off. Then the whole train took my side, and I knew
French very well and I gave him an argument showing him that I had exit
papers and that I had to join my parents in the United States and so he
finally agreed to let me, or leave me on the train but he was going to
signal in St. Navare which was the port city where I was supposed to be
going that there were aliens whose papers should be checked and should be
escorted to the boat. However, when we arrived in St. Navare I was the
first one to get off that train, and got on my own to the boat. Later,
behind me, I saw the French police inspecting the train and asking every-
body for their papers.
I then got on the boat and arrived in the United States where I saw my
family. My brother had to leave Paris too, because the German forces were
coming in, and my brother took my bicycle and fled towards the south of
France. We had a young lady who took care of my sister's children. She
was also a refugee from Vienna. She was a gentile girl who had followed a
friend of hers, who went to America, and who had no possibility of taking
her along, so she was stranded in Paris. My father had her stay with me,
so that I would not be alone, and we got quite friendly, and after I had
left, she left also with my brother on the bicycle. After very many un-
pleasant experiences they finally made it to southern France.
She married my brother very shortly afterward. The Germans had tried to
put her in jail because of racial disgrace as she was on friendly terms
with a Jew. My brother, in order to get her out of internment camp at
that time, married her. We did not know for sure whether that was a real
marriage or was just because of the internment camp, but it turned out to
be a real marriage and after initial difficulties, we did get used to her
and she lived in a very happy marriage with my brother, I am on very
friendly terms, and she has since become a pleasant member of my family.
My brother, who also had difficulties with his quota, and my sister-in-law
got a visa for people who are persecuted politically, through a lawyer's
help in the United States, and he managed to come around September of 1914.
They managed to get on a ship and come to the United States from Marseilles
where they had been living under very unpleasant conditions.
We all settled in the United States, and my brother and I tried to get to
work as soon as we possibly could. I had gotten a job and I started work-
ing in New Haven in the Chemical Company in 1940, where I
made $20 a week. I worked there for about a year until I managed to get my-
self a better job.
In November, 1940, a young man came to visit my mother in New York asking
about my whereabouts. His name was Kurt Opper, Kurt Bart Opper, he was a
lawyer in Vienna and I had met him on many of my skiing trips and had become
quite friendly. However, during the immigration times we had lost track of
each other. He came to visit my mother in New York in November, 1940, and
after we met, we very soon decided to get married. My father had at that
time a complicated kidney operation and so we decided to wait until my father
was over his operation and out of the hospital, and then we got married in
My husband had spent two years in Columbia where he had received a visa to
go to Columbia directly from Vienna and he had been active and started
business with American firms. His previous chief of the law firm in which
he had been working had provided and affidavit for him and when the war in
Europe had started he had sent him all the necessary papers. So, as I men-
tioned he came to the United States in 1940. He tried to work as an im-
porter and exporter, and after many trials and different jobs he succeeded
in forming his own company which was the Chelsea Export Corporation, which
during the war years first worked mainly with Portugal, where he had very
good representation, and which made his firm flourish.
After the war, the Portugese business was not possible anymore, and he then
got into the marble business and imported marble from Portugal and from
Italy. He imported marble which was mainly for tables, also other stone
imports for constructural businesses were on the agenda of the company.
We decided to wait to have a child until we would see how World War II was
developing. I must mention first that before we got married, I made it a
point that I wanted to have a job in New York, because he could only work
in New York in the export and import business. I succeeded in getting a
job with the Virginia Carolina Chemical Corporation as a research chemist.
The business that the company was doing in New Jersey was kept quite secret
at that time because it was a project which was connected with the war
effort. I worked there and when I got there I was told that we were develop-
ing a coating fiber which should replace wool in case of war, and this job
project had a very high job priority. As a matter of fact all of my colleagues
who worked with me on that project were draft-deferred.
I loved the.work with the company and I did become a group leader there very
soon. We developed a very good fiber which was a wool fiber. However, after
the war the work stopped because it was not commercially possible to be
developed because we used peanuts. We used the protein from peanuts, and this
protein had to be extracted by solvents. At that time, the Food and Drug
Administration did not allow solvent extracted oils to be used for edible
purposes, and made the project impossible in that year 1942. Our project was
really terminated in 1946. When it turned out that the solvent-extracted
peanut oil was not possible to be used foredible purposes, the project had
to be abandoned. It had been supported by the government in war-time, but
after the war, the peanut coating fiber could not be manufactured in a com-
Our whole process was therefore adapted to Zeain fibers and Zeain is a protein
that is recovered from corn and we converted our whole methodology to Zeain
and finally the company decided to set up on a commercial basis a factory in
Connecticut for developing the Zeain fiber and to move there in February of
1948. At that time, I was pregnant, and retired from the company. By the
end of February, 1948, just when we were about to move to Connecticut, I had
my baby, a girl, in April, 1948. I realized that as a scientist, I could not
interrupt my work for too long, otherwise I would lose my professional status.
I wanted to go back to the company after about half a year, but it was
impossible to travel to Connecticut, with my husband's business being set in
New York, and so I had to resign.
It took me about two years to find another employment because, at that time,
there was a depression for scientific people, and women especially had a
very hard time to be hired by industry. In 1950, I managed to get a job in
Mount Sinai Hospital. I had enjoyed these two years with my child very much,
staying home and taking care of her, as I had wanted for a very long time to
have a child. As both my husband and I were really older parents, we felt
that we could not have a greater family.
I then started to work in Mount Sinai Hospital, which was very easily located
from our home on West 71st Street in Manhattan. I worked there for 15 years,
and worked myself up to become a research associate, heading my own research
project in the Department of Chemistry.
I had a relatively easy time because I could take care of my daughter's needs
by bringing her and picking her up from school and bringing her to her violin
lessons. In the beginning years I had a full-time maid to take care of her,
so that I would be free, and later on I had always a girl in for the after-
noon so she would not come home to an empty house. She attended public school
and got admitted to Hunter High School in junior high by a special test which
was necessary for admission to Hunter.
I worked in Mount Sinai until January, 1965 because that was the date that the
chief of chemistry at Mount Sinai was supposed to retire. Before he retired,
he asked me whether I wanted to go on working and I had agreed with my husband
that I would not work any longer, but until our daughter would be through
I did get a job at the New Jersey College of Medicine in the Department of
Medicine to head a special laboratory for special tests for the medical depart-
ment, My chief was Dr. Levy who was the Chief of the Liver Division and later
on became the Chief of Medicine. I worked there since January 1, 1965 and my
daughter was early admitted in February of 1965 to go to attend Harper College
on a special admission for gifted high school children, and she was released
from the second part of her senior year in high school.
In February we brought her to college and on April 3rd, my husband died. I
continued, of course, to work in the New Jersey College of Medicine, I had,
at that time, the obligation to support my daughter. I did succeed to have
her in college, although she wanted very much not to stay in college out-of-
town, I thought it was better for her not to give up the college she had
wanted, and had been admitted to, in order to join me in New York. I did
help her to finish her college, in Harper College. She finished in three
It.is there that she met Fred Smith and got engaged to him, and Fred finished
college a half a year before her, and then went to the University of San Diego
to study chemistry. She came home in January, 1968 after finishing college,
and worked with MONY, Mutual of New York until June. In June, 1968, she
married Fred, and went also to California where she studied experimental
F: Anita, when did you start thinking about coming to Florida? You were happy
in your New York life at this time?
0: I was adjusted to my life in New York, but when my children went to California
the first year and I went to visit them, Peggy felt badly about having left me
alone in New York. At that time however, they felt that they had to get on
their own, so they asked me to promise them, that when I would retire, I would
join them wherever they would settle.
They decided at that time to stay in California and I dismissed any other
thought, but to work until my retirement at the New Jersey College of Medicine,
where after very many difficulties mainly imposed by my sex, I finally suc-
ceeded in getting tenure as an associate professor, and was still in charge,
mainly of educating and conducting and leading the research of the Fellows of
the Liver Division who were doing research in chemistry and working with my
chief in the medical department.
F: Did you have many friends in New York?
0: I did not want to give up my New York apartment, because I had very many
friends in New York. My friends in New Jersey tried to convince me that it
was easier not to commute an hour and fifteen minutes twice a day, I felt
that it was easier to come home at five o'clock and go out in the evening,
and drive back in the morning rather than driving in the evening to New York.
During the time I was alone an old friend of mine by the name of Vilma Schwarz
was an absolute angel to me. She would call me up repeatedly, and I saw very
much of her and her husband, Frederick Schwarz, whom I knew from Vienna. As
a matter of fact, Fred and Vilma had met in my home at a party in Vienna and
had married later on. We hadn't seen them for many years, but in the last
years of my husband's life, we had gotten together and we had very frequent
bridge games. And then after my husband's death, I became more friendly with
I then went on a trip to Spain in 1972 with my sister and while I was on the
trip I got the news of the sudden death of Vilma Schwarz. When I came back
to New York, Frederick Schwarz was very happy to see me and came to visit me
very regularly. As we were both unmarried and lonesone and had been friends
for so many years, we made up our minds to get married.
We got married in 1974, which was just before my son-in-law who had in the
meantime started medicine at the New Jersey College of Medicine got his M.D.
degree. Through the nationwide assignment of residencies he was assigned to
Miami Medical School and he made his internship and his residency in Miami.
As I had promised the children that I was going to live in the place where
they would settle down after my retirement, I had also told that to Frederick
Schwarz before we got married. After we were married two years or three
years, in 1977, we came for the first time to Florida during the summer.
I had wanted to resign at that time, although I had not reached retirement
age, but I had been thwarted in publications, and my name was not on there
and I was very much upset about these injustices. But when I told my boss
that I wanted to resign, he preferred to give me a special six months leave
of absence, if I promised to come back and to go on with the research which
he had in the meantime applied for.
At the meeting for receiving the grant for this research from N. I. H. I had
been a key person, and as a matter of fact, after the interview of the
people from Washington, they asked me especially how many years I was still
working in Jersey before getting us the grant. Because of that, my boss
made everything possible for me to stay there, I was put into all the pub-
lications from that moment on, and although he did not change in his person-
ality, I had a much more pleasant life.
F: Let's go back a little, you worked very hard to get where you got.
0: Anyway, Isucceeded from then on to spend three months in Florida and the
rest of the year in New York. In the last year after my retirement in 1978,
I spent the winter of 1978, and '79 working as a consultant in the New
Jersey College of Medicine. I worked only on my research, and did not have
any other faculty obligations. I worked three days a week and got the same
salary for those three days, fortunately as I had gotten before.
So, I worked as a consultant and then I took an apartment at that time, Fred
had decided to settle in Palm Beach County and we took an apartment for rent
in Covered Bridge in the summer of 1979. I stayed here until November.
After the birth of my youngest grandchild, Seth, we bought a unit in Covered
Bridge. Then we went back to New York, and I still did some consulting
business, but on a more irregular basis during that winter. I also packed
and sold my things, and we moved to Florida in 1980 to Covered Bridge.
F: I understand that you are active in the Jewish Women's Organization in New
York before moving to Florida.
0: When I was alone after my husband's death and I wanted to find an occupation,
and a way to meet many of my friends in a more casual manner, I became a
member of B'nai B'rith Womens Liberty Chapter. Liberty Chapter is one of
the three European chapters of New York City and was founded by people from
Vienna. First Liberty Lodge was founded by Viennese B'nai B'rith members
and about half a year later the Chapter was founded. I joined then, and I
had many friends there, and I felt very enthusiastic about their projects.
After five years I became president. I served as president for two years,
and only had to restrict my activities for evenings and weekends only, I did
not attend any daytime meetings because of my job, but I always delegated
somebody to replace me whenever it was necessary. Mainly the activities of
lodges and chapters in New York City were not during the daytime.
When I moved to Florida, my husband had joined me in B'nai B'rith after we
got married. We had not been an active member in the lodge but his father
had been a member of the same Liberty Lodge beforehand and when we moved
here I suggested to him that I would be the best idea if we did join a local
chapter. We inquired where there was a lodge and a chapter and Mr. Soams
who is the Membership Acquisition Chairman for Lake Worth Lodge came to visit
us and invited my husband to a new member's breakfast immediately. Of course
I asked him to make sure to find out where the women met. When he came back
he said laughingly, "They don't have any women who are B'nai B'rith members
here. You are invited to go there and work as a auxiliary, if you so desire".
Now, I had been educating new members, and telling them that the B'nai B'rith
women had been going through the stage of having been auxiliary workers, and
had finally gotten the status of being an organization of it's own. I there-
fore asked my daughter whether she knew anybody who was a member of the B'nai
B'rith Women, and who or where there would be a women's chapter, and where
there would be a head organization or the council in this community. She
"gave me the name of a friend of hers, and she gave me the name of Ruth
Goldberg whom I called. She was very enthusiastic about somebody being inter-
ested in forming a chapter in this neighborhood. About two or three weeks
later, she wrote me a letter that she had asked Joe Berg to help me so that
we both together could start the preliminaries for forming a chapter in this
neighborhood. That is what we did in the winter of 1981.
F: Your chapter became a reality?
0: The chapter became a reality, and we got our charter, and formed the foundation
of Olam Chapter of which I was very honored to become the first president on
June 4, 1981.
F: You mentioned to me about your family always knowing that they were Jewish,
and having a great Jewish identity.
0: Our family was a Sephardic Jewish family who was very conscious of this
identity, however, we have never been taught, or have ever adhered too closely
with the Jewish traditions.
The only Jewish tradition I saw was in my grandfather's house. We were invited
for Rosh Hashana evening and my grandmother, the mother of my mother in Vienna
attended temple on Rosh Hashana and on Yom Kippur. She was visited in temple
by her daughters but we never did have any formal celebration of Jewish holidays
Austria is a capitalistic state. Capitalism is the religion of the state.
They do require all school children to have a religious education. The religion
of the parents of a six-year old child decides into which religious education
class the child is being brought. All public and private schools have to offer
religious education for the children. Each year they attend school there has
to be a mark in religion which is one of the subjects taught in school. We
had, therefore, religious education all through gymnasium, which is the school
that I mentioned before that I attended which leads to the baccalaureate and
gives you automatic admission to the state university. There is no other
university. The University of Vienna is a very old university with a very
high tradition for many centuries. But, in order to get to university you
have to have a baccalaureate and in the baccalaureate there has to be included
a mark of religions and a proof, of religious education.
F: Anita, let's go back a bit to your family history.
0: As I mentioned before my father and my mother had been first cousins and I
will explain to you how their family relationship was.
In Turkey, there was a rabbi who had a house on the Bosphorus. His name was
Yerushalmi. His wife was one day hanging up clothing on the roof of the
house, when she saw Russian ships going through the Bosphorus towards what
was then Constantinople and the residence of the Sultan. These ships were
war ships, and Mrs. Yerushalmi recognized them as such. I do not know
exactly the year, but it was during the time of the Russian-Turkish war,
it was the beginning of the Russian-Turkish war. It must have been at the
beginning of the 19th Century. The Rabbi Yerushalmi went to the sergeant
and told him about the war ships approaching through the Bosphorus, and for
his news, he was rewarded by giving him, and all his decendents a privilege
of not having to pay any taxes in Turkey.
His daughter married a man who also was from Istanbul, but whose exact decent
I do not know, but by the name of Moishe Tiring, and he married the daughter
of Yerushalmi, and had six children with her; three daughters and three sons.
She died very shortly after having had her last child and he went to live in
Lake Horn in Italy, as it is known in English. That was a free port in Italy,
which had a very large Jewish community, and it had the oldest Italian-Jewish
community next to the community of Rome. He went there with his six children,
and educated them in Livorno. His three daughters were married to Italian
men in Livorno. One of them is a fellow by the name of Isabella, married a
man called Augusta Luisada. They were the parents of my father. They settled
in Pisa where my father was born in the year 1869. His father died when my
father was 13 years old, and therefore his mother sent him to his brother to
Vienna after he had finished his studies.
Now I have to explain that after Moishe Tiring had married off his three
daughters in Livorno, he went with his three sons to Vienna where he founded
a tailor business. As a matter of fact, they were also manufacturing ready-
made men's suits, and they started a great tailoring business and afterwards
opened department stores, first in Istanbul, and then in Cairo, for men and
The eldest son of Moise Tiring, was Victor Tiring who founded the company
"Victor Tiring Und Bruder" which means 'and brothers'. And, as he was a
very promising and talented young man he married a young lady by the name
of Fanny Schwartzman who was the daughter of the very well-off and very well
known Viennese family, and she and Victor Tiring were the parents of my
So, when my father's father had died, and he had finished his studies he
became a sort of a commercial lawyer, representative. He was sent to his
uncle in Vienna and Victor Tiring sent him to Constantinople to take charge
of the business in Constantinople, and for 18 years my father lived there
and erected the family business.