Paul Tsongas? Harold Kushner? Arnold Zack? Barbara Mackoff? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: When an individual is lying on a deathbed and contemplating mortality the need to ascribe a transcendent meaning and purpose to life often becomes paramount. Deep bonds of love, caring, and friendship are highlighted. The workaday world recedes in importance. Here are four statements from a family of pertinent sayings:
- Nobody on their deathbed has ever said, “I wish I had spent more time at the office’.
- No one on their deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at work’.
- No person on their deathbed ever says they wish they had worked harder.
- I never heard a dying man say, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’
This saying has been attributed to U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas and prominent rabbi author Harold Kushner. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: In 1983 Paul Tsongas was a U. S. Senator for Massachusetts. When he was diagnosed with a treatable form of cancer he re-evaluated his life choices and opted not to seek re-election. In 1984 he published the memoir “Heading Home” which included a discussion of his decision. The following passage refers to Niki who was Tsongas’s wife and Arnold Zack who was a lawyer friend. Boldface added by QI: 1
Since I didn’t have a lot of close friends, the family was where I fulfilled my human aspirations. The Senate had become an obstacle to that. As Niki told a reporter later on, “We are a self-contained unit.” Or as an old friend, Arnold Zack, wrote to me in a letter, “No one on his deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time on my business.’”
This is the earliest match known to QI. The saying was popularized by Paul Tsongas, but it originated with Arnold Zack according to current evidence.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1984, Heading Home by Paul Tsongas, Chapter 7: Leaving, Quote Page 159 and 160, A Borzoi Book: Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩