Remarks at Rhonda's Life Celebration
I am pleased and humbled to welcome you to this Celebration of Rhonda’s life on behalf of the organizing committee. Gracias a La Vida – honoring her and the gratefulness for life she taught us – on this beautiful Sept day just after her 66th birthday last Wed. the 15th.
This event represents only a small sample of all the remembrances and tributes to Rhonda’s work and life that have poured in from all over the world, including events in Nicaragua, Paris, Costa Rica, + Uganda..
On the extraordinary blog to Rhonda organized by her friends Maureen + Anita, there are now 120 people from over 30 countries who shared their remembrances and photos - reflecting Rhonda's global community of activists, scholars, & friends from Argentina, to Burma, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, Serbia, Sierra Leone,
I printed out pages and pages of these tributes – so moving and humorous – I wanted to read some, but there are just too many – but the diversity of voices and languages are testimony to the wide range of her influence on individuals and on institutions– from South African Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs to the long serving chair of the CEDAW Committee Ivanka Corti to imminent lawyers + activists working for human rights and justice in every corner of the earth those gathered in Spanish by Radio Fire International and from her colleagues at the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice. All wanted to be heard today and we carrying them with us into this event.
Rhonda touched so many people – intellectually, politically, + personally
– as the fierce pioneer for gender justice with a creative legal mind that never stopped – literally keeping her and many of us up at night.
– the generous and demanding teacher who helped to launch many a career in social justice work
– as a tender and loyal friend who took great joy in sharing her love for the beauty in life of food, nature, and great music.
Her voracity for life knew no boundaries – personal or political
– wanted to know everyone, to be everywhere (even if she arrived when the event was over) and to do everything with a sense of urgency about social justice and a vast curiosity about the world that could exhaust those around her.. and often led to missed deadlines and… very late dinners.
– appropriately, as she requested, her ashes have been scattered in many places so now, at last, she can be everywhere at once.
I remember all the times Rhonda said to me “We must do … ” to which I would try to sensibly reply but Rhonda who is the “we” … who can take it on – we are all overloaded - But too little effect – as it rarely stopped her from finding a way to take it on herself or move others to action.
She was the original Yes We Can (and Must)…Her extraordinary will power could manifest in stubbornness that drove us crazy, but it also helped to achieve many of the milestones discussed today. It extended her own life against all the odds - to give her time to see one more opera, make one more submission to the InterAmerican Court, and to say good bye to so many of those who loved her.
And love her we did. The organizers for this event today did it out of respect and admiration for her extraordinary work – which is incredible, But above all - out of love – because she touched so many of us so deeply as a friend.
To speak more personally about my own sense of love + loss for a moment
– Hardly a week passes, when I do not at some moment – want to call Rhonda to discuss something a Supreme Court or UN decision, a movie, or a personal struggle to “let go” in the process of passing on leadership. (Giving up control was a topic we often tussled with – not easy for either of us.)
I realize when I long for those conversations how much Rhonda was always “there” for her friends. We might not talk for weeks but when we did – conversation picked up as if it had never stopped. She was an insightful political adviser to sort through complex thorny issues + never shied away from difficulty, but she was also intensely interested in our life struggles.
She had an uncanny ability to know when I needed comfort, or company or just to talk about something difficult. For example, when Roxanna left New York to work in Burundi for 2 years - shortly before both of our 60th birthdays, Rhonda suggested we celebrate our birthdays together.
At this time when I was feeling very vulnerable, Rhonda was quick to share more of her own personal life with me, welcoming me to come along with her anywhere and especially to her home and friends in LI. Instinctively she filled a need I hardly acknowledged + got me to discuss things I hardly knew I was feeling. As I became part of the gang for whom she has provided this family + home, I came to see how many women she did this for.
Even after she was diagnosed with cancer – she continued to ask me first how I was doing with my aging issues + to joke that now she would not have to go through those problems. She remained present to the lives of others. Whether in politics, culture or personal struggle – Rhonda could penetrate to the core of the issue and illuminate as well as sympathize with others.
Today – we share memories and stories – reflections on what Rhonda was for each of us in her life + her work, which were usually intertwined. Each person is speaking to different aspects of Rhonda’s life – and through this we see how wide was the canvas of life she painted. There could be a dozen more speakers in each of these places
– but we hope as we honor + celebrate this amazing woman in all her humanity-touching, tough, driven, humorous and annoying all at once. We will be echoing what you loved about Rhonda - That we can share at least some of the loss + grief we feel because she has left us - and be reminded also of how she united us in community and love.
After the testifiers and music, we will have a brief time for an open mike community sharing by more of you before we end with a reception. The first speaker will be Ann Cammett