"I often wonder how you can find time for what you do, in addition to the care of the house; and how good Mrs. West could have written such books and collected so many hard works, with all her family cares, is still more a matter of astonishment. Composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb."~Jane Austen in a letter to her sister Cassandra, 1816

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Learning Judy

It’s 3:00 on Sunday afternoon and I should be at her memorial service right now. At seven months pregnant it’s not easy for me to make what would be a day trip to attend the service though. Plus there are the children to watch over. I can’t imagine them able to do much more at a memorial service than provide a little comic relief. That might prove diverting for about five minutes.

Judy started off as my husband’s angel and later became mine too. She and her law partner hired my husband before he even passed the bar. She rushed into the partner’s office after my husband’s interview and blurted out with a characteristically emphatic double shake of her head, “We are going to hire him!” Thus began a grace period in our lives: the six years that we knew Judy.

Judy epitomized all the best connotations of the word “genteel.” One felt safe in conversation with her, held kindly in the large embrace of her intellect, which encompassed art, books, outdoor romps, love for people. She had a rare gift for really listening. Perhaps that is partly why she was such a great lawyer. She was always willing to extend another person the benefit of the doubt, a byproduct maybe of her being raised in the South, in what I imagine as a slower, more polite society.

Judy came into our lives shortly before my husband and I had children. She took a keen personal interest in our well being, our interests, our society. It was so encouraging to have an older, more experienced and clearly successful person inquire into our beliefs and passions with true interest. She and her law partner were great mentors for my husband. He learned them even more than the practice of law. And, surprisingly, although I was merely the spouse of an employee, I too was folded into the warmth of their company.

The wellspring of goodness and civility that flowed out of Judy to me is a proof of God for me. That’s not to say that she was perfect. I will never forget her unshielded disappointment the day my husband left her firm. Restraint was registered on her face like a post mark. Judy and I were both practically in tears throughout the indulgent goodbye lunch she and her partner threw for my husband. We had depended on Judy to understand all our logical reasons for moving on, but it seemed as if she couldn’t forgive us. But a few months later at her annual Easter party, a grand old-fashioned affair with a hunt for the golden egg, egg toss and egg spinning contests, appearances by clients turned friends as the Easter bunny and his overgrown chicken of an assistant, scrumptious coffee cakes, sliced ham, and the same relied-upon side dishes brought by neighbors, party guests and Judy fans for over 30 years, Judy cast her tolerant gaze again on my husband and I, listened to us gush about the joys of parenting, crowed over our new little girl and generally made us to feel like the prodigals we were.

I can’t think that Judy’s death from ovarian cancer, in seven quick months, is an ending. She is all the more present now, in my memory: her way of living deliberately, working diligently, enjoying the company of others, allowing difference to mean uniqueness. I have learned her.


  1. I am so sorry to hear about your loss, Laura. This is a wonderful, honest and uplifting tribute to Judy.

  2. Thanks Cecilia! I failed to mention in my post that after years of homemaking Judy decided to go to law school when her children were 7 and 9. Her example of incorporating her professional life and home/personal life was another way I learned her. The two facets each shined brilliantly and complemented each other.