My mother, Pat Cody, passed away last Thursday, at 87 years of age. She was quite a woman. Here are some of the lessons she taught me over the years.
If you see something is wrong, speak up and try to change it. Join with others and raise your voices together. In the early 1960s she helped found Women for Peace, which took a stand against nuclear weapons and the slowly expanding Vietnam war. Years before protesters marched by the millions, my mother was marching every week at Berkeley’s city hall, protesting the US advisors that would wind up leading the nation to war. The fact that most people had not heard of Vietnam did not stop her from speaking out. More recently, she helped found a group called Grandmothers Against the War, to call for peace once again.
Respond to the immediate needs of those around you. In 1967 the summer of love blossomed around the world, and Berkeley became one of the places where youth gathered. Every week, hundreds of youngsters would arrive with their belongings on their backs, looking for a new scene. My mother and father had a bookstore in the midst of this scene on Telegraph Avenue. Some of the local business owners wanted to make life as hard as possible for the youth, so they would leave. But my parents helped found the Berkeley Free Clinic in 1969, and for many years my mother served as the treasurer for the organization. This clinic has been a lifeline for thousands of people, and operates mostly on volunteer labor. Much of the funds for the project came in the form of spare change collected by young people on the street, who cajoled donations from passersby and split the proceeds with the clinic. My sisters and I did our part by counting and rolling the coins on the dining room table every Sunday night for years.
When personal tragedy strikes, build community with others and face it together. In 1971, my mother learned that DES, a drug she had taken to prevent miscarriages, actually caused reproductive damage to the children who were in utero. She discovered there were millions who had been affected, but there was very little public information available. She connected with others similarly affected and started DES Action, a group devoted to informing people about the effects of the drug, advocating for research and support for those affected. This group grew to have chapters in more than thirty states and in other countries as well. My mother was the linchpin of this group, and built a powerful network that included doctors, medical researchers, and the people affected by the drug. She personally responded to thousands of people seeking information and support, and was like a second mother to many.
Don’t preoccupy yourself with credit or awards or power. Just do what needs to be done, and enjoy the company of others while working towards common goals. She gave me the example by which I have lived my life, and I will miss her.
Who were your first teachers? What lessons did they leave with you?
photo by John Vigran, used by permission.
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