Friday, October 8, 2010

Pat Cody

Last week a dear friend of mine named Pat Cody died at the age of 87.  I had known her since I was 24, and she was younger than I am now when we first met.  We worked together at an organization called the Coalition for the Medical Rights of Women.  I was the first development director they had ever had, and this was my first development job.  The combination worked out very well, and Pat was a great part of the reason why. 

I have been thinking about why she was such a great person since I learned of her death.  She had many accomplishments to her name:  she and her husband, Fred, started one of the most successful independent bookstores in Berkeley called Cody’s Books, and ran that for 30 years.  Prior to owning the bookstore, they had lived in Mexico where they hung with the likes of Pablo Neruda and Diego Rivera.  They were Communist sympathizers, caught up in the suppression of dissent called the McCarthy Era.  Pat founded or helped to found a number of Berkeley institutions: the Berkeley Free Clinic, DES Action (her great passion for many years), and later Grandmothers Against the War

But what made her great was that I never learned any of the above from her.  She focused always on the future, bringing in lessons of the past without nostalgia or righteousness.  She had the mind of a steel trap and could bring to mind dates, names, and places with no effort at all.  She had learned Spanish in Mexico, but then rarely spoke it, yet when we went to the UN Decade for Women Conference in Nairobi in 1986, she easily talked with the Spanish speakers there. 

In our working relationship, she offered unconditional support, great enthusiasm, and gave me credit far past what was due to me for any success we experienced at the Coalition with fundraising. 

Pat introduced me to the idea that taxes were a good thing.  In the mid 1970’s, nonprofits could opt out of paying social security tax and I wanted us to do that, to save money. She was able to help me see that any short term gain from this move would only hurt all of us later, and that social security tax was our obligation to the entire society.  She was the first ‘commoner’ I ever knew, although she did not use that word to describer herself.

I did not see her very often in the past few years: I was too busy and I did not take into account that she would not always be around.  I missed some great opportunities and I regret that very much.  In terms of rough social equity, death is the great equalizer: it comes to us all and those that go on living are never entirely prepared for the shock of it. 

Although I was not as good a friend as I should have or could have been, I never got that message from Pat.  She was always glad to see me when she saw me, with no recriminations.

I only hope that I can offer that same unconditional loving support to the people who are younger than me that she gave me.

Pat, you live on!!!  Thanks.

No comments: