From James B. Lampke, Executive Director of MMLA
Dear Colleagues, as many of you know from a prior sad email alert from the MMLA, Deirdre Roney, General Counsel to the State Ethics Commission and a great friend and guiding light to local municipal counsel, announced on Facebook, in most brave and moving prose, that she was terminally ill with breast cancer. Many of our members reached out to her in visits, email, cards and just supportive thoughts. It is with further sadness that we let you know that Deirdre did pass away December 17th. Many of you may have already heard this, but we were waiting for further information about arrangements before sending out another email. We know she found great comfort in that outpouring of love and friendship. A memorial service will be held this Thursday, December 28, 2017, 11:00 AM. to 1:00 PM, at the Forsyth Chapel at Forest Hills Cemetery, 95 Forest Hills Avenue, in Jamaica Plain, Boston. [Obituary]
As noted below, the format will be storytelling, mostly with emphasis on stories no one has heard, some of which are quite funny. Participants will be offered the chance to speak, in 5-minute segments, and you are encouraged to. There will be some moments of silence at the end to honor all those who have passed whom participants wish to remember. There will be room for many in a beautiful chapel, and all are welcome, but we are also aware that for many this next week is one of the few times they may meet in their own families.
The family has asked that donations in Deirdre’s name be sent to the Deirdre Roney Memorial Research Fund addressed to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Development Office, 10 Brookline Place, Brookline, MA 02445. [See Obituary – reprinted from Boston Globe]
MMLA urges you to read the 3 attachments to this message [See Attachments below] which were sent out by her family. As sad as they are, they help remind us of what an amazing woman Deirdre was. They are very moving. Please feel free to share this email with anyone you feel would want to know.
To our dear friend Deirdre, many thanks for being the person you were. In your passing, as in your life, we have learned so much from you and not just about the law. Be in peace. To Deirdre’s family and friends, may her memory be a blessing for her family and friends.
Attachment #1 – From Deirdre, on Facebook, November 17, 2017:
Dear friends and relations,
I read at some point, I think in Miss Manners, that social media is not supposed to be used for important personal announcements; instead they should be individually handwritten on nice paper. So I’m doing this wrong; but I’m tired and want to get this out. I mentioned last week that my breast cancer has spread to my liver. Unfortunately this means that I have run out of treatment options, leaving only palliative. In other words, they can’t prolong my life, only try to make it comfortable. I have probably got about 4 more weeks, then I will be gone. So, if you have something you’ve wanted to tell me or talk about, don’t dawdle! And I want to tell all of you how much I have enjoyed your love, friendship and companionship over the years, especially those activities involving birds and pastry. I hope we can go on enjoying pleasures like these flowers in some fashion as we move forward. I’ve never felt sure whether we do or not; but I guess I’m going to find out a bit sooner than I had hoped. Love and kisses, Deirdre.
Attachment #2 – From Deirdre’s Husband, the week after Thanksgiving:
Friends and colleagues,
Last Thursday was the last Thanksgiving for Deirdre Roney, my spouse and better known here as General Counsel of the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission. She has two or three weeks left of life. This is not a eulogy, I write so you can contact her or visit her rather than find out suddenly when it is too late, to reflect on the ultimate importance of relationships with you and others, and to note a policy issue that affects us both professionally and personally in the treatment of breast cancer. Some will object to this use of LinkedIn. I address that below.
Few of you knew that Deirdre was ill. Starting eight years ago, Deirdre was treated for Stage 0 breast cancer, including years of aromatase inhibitors which end abruptly after five years because that’s how long research supported their use. Payers and doctors line up under a questionable policy: to treat women with nonmetastatic breast cancer intensively for 5 years then stop all treatment and do nothing but watch and wait; and when what we watch for appears we know not only that its back but that by then it is raging and entrenched. We wait until the patient faces a fight to the death on multiple fronts that the cancer will always win.
I don’t know for sure, but this policy seems to be a terrible accident resulting from good intentions. There is the general principle that medicine should be evidence-based (sounds good) and the fact the research sponsors determine how long efficacy should be tested and five years is a long time for a clinical trial. Five years of treatment we know is effective. Five years plus one day, we do not know what to do, so we do nothing. Providers and payers agree that care should be evidence-based. So the legitimate cost-benefit decisions of pharma companies concerning clinical trials end up being, in another context, the boundaries of good medical practice and appropriate, necessary payment.
So there are three phases: diagnosis with five years of treatment, then a phase of no treatment just watching and waiting for something, then a third after something has happened that you are waiting for. During the first phase, treatment, Deirdre did everything: mastectomy, hysterectomy, lymph node pulls, tamoxifen until bleeding from it caused her to pass out and stop breathing; I will always remember the sound as she hit the floor, and the silence as she stopped breathing, always recall the sight of her, so frail, choking on her own vomit, and always thank the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore, my first professional employer, for urging each of the associates to learn CPR and offering training for free on site. Then, since she lived, treatment included five years of aromatase inhibitors and intermittent scans. End phase one.
Second phase. Five years ends and so does the prescription. Suddenly, nothing is happening. No drugs, though drugs are what stops cancer. No surgeries or radiation. Infrequent but regular visual scans. System silence. Like many lawyers, Deirdre doesn’t always do what she’s told. When told to do nothing, Deirdre did nothing, nothing that is except change her diet, lose poundage, start biking to work rain snow or shine, bike the Boston Marathon the night before at ages 52 and 53, 80 miles every weekend along the Minuteman, and double her efforts at the people’s business because time might be short. Concurrently with having cancer, she created the theory of recovery successfully employed to fund repairs following the Big Dig Disaster, led the only government attorney team in the country to win a state school funding case, mentored, and so worked with others to so renovate the regulations and practices of the Commission that she won the acclaim of her would-be antagonists, including an unprecedented award to a Commission (and almost any) General Counsel from the Commonwealth’s localities). She did that while, as she puts, committing herself to a new life principle she has actually lived by since at least 1975 when I first met her, to draw joy from every small thing, not only from big ones or the achievement of dreams. She started taking a camera with her everywhere she went so from then on I have a flowing record of much of what she saw and how she saw it. She did all this in the grim period of grieving the death of both parents, and supporting members of her immediate and extended family through serious challenges, including false accusations against one, sudden loss of employment by another, major depression, the death of an in-law by suicide, and more.
So the health care system does nothing, and she does her version of nothing, and my son and I are basically dog paddling to keep up. But they forgot to tell the cancer to do nothing. Word must have gotten around among all the breast cancers at their annual convention: now’s your chance, go for it, the way is clear and the guards do nothing but watch and wait. Actually they don’t watch and wait, for a few minutes twice each year they look at some numbers and then they turn their attention elsewhere, and they are excellent doctors.
Watch and wait for what? For Deirdre it was watch and wait for sudden crippling back pain after every scan seemed to reveal no problem. It was metastasis, not caught by scans that suddenly drop from every month to every six months.
That is the lived meaning of current policy: do nothing until metastasis, stop all preventive efforts in the interim. Stage 0 to Stage 4 in one jump, and that is not uncommon for women. It was a brave fight attended by an excellent care team. But by metastasis, even excellent doctors, nurses and physician assistants fight a losing battle. Its 100% terminal. The 4-year survival rate during the treatment of nonmetastatic cancer is above 80% but the survival rate for women once it has metastasized flips: the four year DEATH rate is 80%. Deirdre is dying at 55, at the very time that male executives are entering what they consider the prime of their working life, when their experience and the teachings of others to them and their successes and mistakes can when combined with compassion and not arrogance but humility and the ability to really listen, bear golden fruit. They hope to emerge as the senior statesmen of their professions and many will. But many similarly situated women, with similar hopes and possibilities, will be dead. We let many female candidates for senior statesman die. Imagine if this is how we treated HIV, or diabetes, or any other condition which is drug dependent to hold it at bay: treat for five years then nothing but watch and wait until it explodes as a crisis. But that is the standard of care.
Is this the best we can do for half the population, our colleagues, partners, mothers, sisters, spouses, daughters?
Earlier this month we learned that metastasis to her liver, kidneys etc was so extensive as to impair critically the function of Deirdre’s organs, and that various forms of anemia and cytopenia critically impaired her respiration as well. She was given perhaps eight days to live. Being Deirdre she exceeded expectations and the estimate was revised to four weeks. She is physically tired and mentally as quick as ever.
Refusing to let me notify anyone, she finally placed a small notice of her imminent death on Facebook and expected no response. Yet as I write, all sorts of people, from ordinary people to agency commissioners from New York and Massachusetts are calling at our home to thank her in the last week or two of her life, and say goodbye. A senior committee counsel in the US Senate flying in especially for the purpose (using personal funds) was among the first to arrive. Republicans and Democrats, Town managers, counsel and selectmen, judges and former judges from all over the State have sent her flowers as has the House counsel of the Massachusetts House. Now adult children from a playgroup she set up 21 years ago as a first time Mom are driving hundreds of miles to see her for a few hours. Women she mentored who are now senior policymakers in government stop to see her. Her Facebook announcement has received written posts from people as far away as India, Afghanistan, Japan, Mongolia and Indonesia, from people who knew her starting at 4 years old and at every stage of life and of every age, race and creed.
As cynicism pervades government service it’s good to have a reminder of what it is really about, and that there is no excuse for anything less than attention and respect for every citizen. Government service is not belligerence to all, benefits to some or filling the swamp in the name of draining the swamp.
This policy is little known. Each death is its own deep pool of loss and grief. It is silent because everyone is doing what they are supposed to do and no one is doing anything wrong. And it is silent and stable because it is a dance of multiple dancers dancing arm in arm in a closed circle, and no one of them can break out of the dance. So, interdependent, they dance and around as great women truly great women, who as a society, in government, in the private sector, in every walk of life and in our homes, as friends or as adversaries who teach, die.
I have an idea. Let’s fix this. Let’s make America great again. Let’s do it by looking first at what Americans need. Let’s look at our homes and what makes them homes and our vital relationships and at what business needs to thrive. Let’s look to the significance of what is being thrown away. We cannot relight lights that we have let die. That is beyond us and we should dare, each of us, to enter the darkness that grieves others and ask the question we persistently evade: is there anything I could do or could have done. The answer is yes. So let’s do it, together, for the sake of all American women. Maybe it will benefit immigrant women, or Moslem women, should we avoid it for that reason? I think we can all agree that would be cutting off our noses to spite our faces. Should we avoid doing it for women of one party because women of another party could benefit. Ditto, plus they all are Americans, we can swallow our hatred briefly and do it anyway.
This btw is not quite how I would analyze it but I’m trying to put in Trump- speak because I am assuming Democrats and lefties would agree this is a problem we should address and I want to speak to those who disagree and persuade them in their terms not mine, respect their right to have different values not beat them for not sharing mine. If both sets of values led to one conclusion, then it is probably smart policy and is called governing on behalf of all people. Putting it that way models the lost art of political civility which actually does not start with disrespect for those who disagree, but respect, for them personally, for their values, and for their right to advocate for the direction of what after all is their society too or it is no society at all.
Eventually, the choices we live with are the choices we die with. The end of life can be misery or an adventure, and I have seen both. In my experience, hospice nearly always prompts and provides the mental space to several questions: Can you die peacefully not desperately? Can you remember, through it all, the happiness of your life? Can you forgive the unhappinesses; with ‘can you’ answered, ‘will you’ becomes a clear-cut choice. Do you see how you have been and are loved? Did you do enough to help and love others? Can you reconcile yourself with death? Only the question about loving others should have a ‘no’ answer, but it prompts a final question, can one forgive oneself. I don’t know how people can answer them without the company of family and friends, who are always involved intimately in all, yes all, those questions. Relationships and community count in a good death just as they do in a good life. In the end it really is true that “you can’t take it with you”, and ultimately relationships are all we have.
She feels bad at not seeing the future ahead for our son and others. Without accepting the premise as certain, I feel it gives the rest of us who will or may see it, a responsibility to make that future as happy as she and one with her clarity would wish it. As the past several years have shown, all futures are intertwined. Every man for himself is not a workable corporate culture. Only fools and tyrants envision a separate golden future just for them. In governing it’s easier to foster antagonisms not union. It’s easy to benefit some; the real challenge is acting to benefit all.
The preceding points brings this essay back to you. I am notifying you because a member of this community is dying; relationships that count in a good life count in a good death, regardless of the medium for regular communication; and there is policy affecting all of us, in every capacity including both personal and professional, which action by you can change.
Now to the question whether this is a tolerable use of LinkedIn. I would say it is a necessary one. But let us first acknowledge that objectors have some basis. The site is concerned with business opportunities, not their end. Its elements are verbal selfies, chronicling one’s successes not one’s defeats. Some may reflexively see this as a family message and therefore anticorporate, missing that its message is all about sound investments as vital to business as private life.
Are the two so alien, business and private life? Our seasonal client and customer letters wish health and happiness, not just economic success, and no business schools teach that employees are widgets or leaders just bean counters. They are more likely to teach learning from defeat than ignoring it.
This is a social medium. For many men it is probably our only social medium because we do not have Facebook accounts or neglect them, and our personal networks are almost entirely our professional networks. This and our email contacts list together describe our personal network. Can LinkedIn be social if it ignores that fact and most of life and all of death? Can it be so if it limits relationships value to avoid the moments when professional relationships become personal and community matters most?
I don’t think so. The price of belonging here should not be that only through other means will one learn of the death of a member, or that one may not hear that the most technologically advanced health care system in the world will accidentally fail many. Relationships are not just hellos and contact requests, they also include the opportunity to say final words of goodbye
Attachment #3 – From Deirdre’s Friend, December 14, 2017:
Friends, this Thanksgiving was the last Thanksgiving for Deirdre Roney, my long time best friend. She has a few days maybe a week left of life. This is not a eulogy; I write so those who know her and wish her well can send such thoughts, prayers, love rays or whatever for her peaceful death, and thereafter, rather than finding out suddenly when it is too late. It’s also so you can have a place to express whatever you wish to with the hope that I will read it to her. Many of you first met her through me; others were her friends first but may be unaware of postings on her Facebook account. Your stories are essential to her story.
I first met Deirdre when I was 15 (she says 16) and she was 13 (she says 14) more than 40 years ago, and I discovered this bookish and solitary person was a natural charismatic leader in groups: I was occupied putting a new roof on a pig house; she, a visitor accompanying her parents, was protecting free range ducklings from some bad little boys by leading all the girls and the rest of the boys in doing to the bad boys what they proposed to do to the ducklings. She looked like a statue of Justice, beautiful, sword in hand, except unlike that Justice she didn’t just stand there and she didn’t wear a blindfold. She was committed to protecting those who are powerless not for fancy reasons but just because. Thus began a relationship that changed my life completely: I would never have cut classes in law school to visit Teddy Roosevelt’s home and grave in Oyster Bay, or traveled throughout the Soviet Union as Lithuania, then Latvia and Estonia declared independence; or gone through Checkpoint Charlie, or visited the Inner Temple in London, or Israel or Turkey or China or Tibet or Japan or Poland, Czechoslovakia, or Yugoslavia, or seen Maggie Smith with front row seats in London and on Broadway or had such a close complementary companion personally and professionally with whom our many differences forged a partnership of equals and only rarely antagonists. She who saw things in black and white to a fault, and I who saw things in shades of gray to a fault, listened and learned from and trusted each other and thus softened, not hardened with the years.
Recently, when I played with the thought that I must know her completely, and wondered how I will do justice to the obligatory oration remembering this life, I rediscovered the obvious: that I didn’t need to say it all and could not because you had done or would do so much of the work, through recollections showing facets of a life touching and touched by many. Ultimately her relationships with everyone matter most, and that no one person is capable of summarizing such a life.
Few of you knew that Deirdre was ill. Deirdre did not want people treating her differently. Eight years ago, she was treated for Stage 0 breast cancer, including years of aromatase inhibitors which ended abruptly after five years because that’s how long research supported their use. Payers and doctors line up under the questionable banner that the commercial decision of a pharma sponsor combined with the false platitude that evidence is the foundation of medicine mean that after five years of intensive treatment one suddenly can do nothing – nothing – but watch and wait. Imagine if we treated HIV that way – stop all treatment after five years and watch and wait– it would be ridiculed. But that is standard of care for women with breast cancer.
“Do nothing” for Deirdre meant do nothing except totally recreate her diet, bike 80 miles each weekend, and throw herself with even more energy into achieving altruistic goals for the public (including creating the theory of recovery successfully employed to fund repairs following the Big Dig Disaster, leading the only attorney team in the country to win a state school funding case, mentoring those entering their professions, and so renovating the regulations and practices of the State Commission, as its General Counsel, that she won the acclaim of her would-be antagonists, including an unprecedented award to a Commission (and almost any) General Counsel from the Commonwealth’s localities). She did that while caring for both parents during their old age, illness and death, and bearing that grief, and supporting every other member of her immediate family through serious challenges. Last but on Facebook hardly least, she suffered the loss of our two old friends, Annie and Bear, we had adopted at middle age from a shelter. Annie, who was the Life Force incarnate, died after prolonged feline leukemia. Bear, a year younger, soon after, when she finally believed, having searched the house again and again, that no answering meow would come from her friend, protector and guide since kittenhood. But with Deirdre, there is no ending without a beginning, and after a year she recently personally jetted home on her lap two new kittens, Medley and Sebastian, transforming airport security temporarily into a missing scene from It’s a Wonderful Life in the process.
No one told the cancer to do nothing. Doing nothing meant that within two years, despite her efforts, severe pain caused by widespread metastasis to the skeleton – missed by standard semiannual scans – was what it took to force the health care system into action. Stage 0 to Stage 4 in one jump, and that is not uncommon for women. It was a brave fight attended by an excellent care team, but Deirdre will be one of the 80% in the 4-year nonsurvival rate for metastasized breast cancer, women whose lives will come to an early end at a time that many men are just entering the decades considered their employment prime, in which the experience and creativity of previous decades bear golden fruit. Is this the best we can do for half the population, our colleagues, partners, mothers, sisters, spouses, daughters?
Earlier this month we learned that metastasis to her liver, kidneys, etc was so extensive as to impair critically the function of Deirdre’s organs, and that various forms of anemia and cytopenia critically impaired her respiration as well. She was given perhaps eight days to live. Being Deirdre she exceeded expectations and the estimate was revised to four weeks. She is physically tired and mentally as quick as ever.
As this was our last Thanksgiving one could understand specially treasuring it. But as I look backward on Thanksgivings each year, which we have celebrated through thick and thin, joy and pain, I realized they are all treasured. They have been a fixed element, not merely a habit but a true tradition with its own force, remembrance, calling us to reconfirm what is essential and count our many blessings and good qualities, and each other’s kindnesses not our faults and failings. With Deirdre the good qualities cannot be numbered, but among them are bravely shouldering responsibility for hard decisions in her care, being definitive about what is valued, and wishing to be kind and acting accordingly. In the end it really is true that “you can’t take it with you”, and ultimately relationships are all we have. She feels bad at not seeing the future ahead for our son and others. Without accepting the premise as certain, I feel it gives the rest of us who will or may see it, a responsibility to make that future as happy as she and one with her clarity would wish it. As the past several years have shown, all futures are intertwined. Every man for himself is not a workable corporate culture. Only fools and tyrants envision a separate golden future just for them. In governing it’s easier to foster antagonisms not union. It’s easy to benefit some, the real challenge is acting to benefit all.
Eventually, the choices we live with are the choices we die with. The end of life can be misery or an adventure, and I have seen both. In my experience, hospice nearly always prompts and provides the mental space to mull several questions: Can you die peacefully not desperately? Can you remember, through it all, the happiness of your life? Can you forgive the unhappinesses; with ‘can you’ truthfully answered, ‘will you’ becomes a clearcut choice. Do you see how you have been and are loved? Did you do enough to help and love others? Can you reconcile yourself with death? Only the question about loving others should have a ‘no’ answer, but it prompts a final question, can one forgive oneself. I don’t know how people can answer them without the company of family and friends, who are always involved intimately in all, underscore all, those questions.
In short, relationships and community count in a good death just as they do in a good life. That brings us full circle back to you, this invitation to contact either of us here if you will, albeit on short notice, and in any event best wishes from us both.
Attachment #4 – From Patrick Taylor & Nathaniel Taylor, this week:
Dear friends, it will come as a surprise to those of you not on Facebook or LinkedIn, but Deirdre Roney has been battling metastatic breast cancer for a couple of years, having first been diagnosed with Stage 0 breast cancer in 2008. If you had no idea, it’s not you: her strong preference was to tell almost no one. She believed that “cancer,” like the words “old”, “poor”, “mentally ill”, and “addict” – none of which she was – was so personally loaded by each person with negative projections that she would become worse than invisible. The very last of her handwritten notes is an observation from Botswana’s main airport that her request for a wheelchair both ensured hyperspeed travel through airport security, and that people would direct any questions or conversation, including about her preferences and how she was feeling, solely to our standing sister-in-law.
Deirdre had announced her imminent demise on Facebook, expecting perhaps a few cards. Instead Deirdre started running a Salon from her couch or bed, wrapped in woolies. There was a procession of daily visitors young and older. We are old enough that quite a number of them are advanced on the path to becoming dignitaries, and those not so old clearly have all the brightness, compassion and will to make it almost inevitable. Present almost every day in rotating shifts were Commissioners and staff of the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission, led by Executive Director Dave Wilson, who (well after long work hours) brought food, cheer and witty conversation. The House counsel’s office sent flowers, and the Governor sent a personal handwritten note thanking her for years of public service. Special thanks go to Commisioners Mills, Quinlan and King; we are leaving out many names because there is about a bushel of cards, letters and packages we have still to review in more detail than a glance and reciting the names to Deirdre; there are also, many texts, and a mailbox of voice messages. Caretaking needs necessarily took precedence. From far away came old friends including artist Eileen Chang, senior counsel Mark Leduc from the US Senate, Professor Maria Fernandez (who has known Deirdre since they were partners in mischief at 4 years old).
Her battle came to a peaceful end at home where family members cared for her 24/7 since the end of October, under the close guidance of hospice nurses. Here convalescence began just after she had fulfilled a lifelong dream to go birdwatching and animal watching in Botswana, traveling with close friend and sister-in-law Janet Taylor. Many of these family members are heroes, whom we may decide to embarrass at the funeral by pointing them out. Watch for Marie, Janet, Becca, Steve, Maggie, and Alex. They took time from busy lives to be here and even more family members wrote or sent cookies (thanks Rose!), flowers, malt and recordings (thanks Celia!) and other essentials. Pat had almost completely retired, hopefully temporarily, to take care of her, but Nat came back early from college, his professors graciously allowing him to complete the semester online. He almost never left her side. There was plenty of time for good talks in the middle of the night and near the end, Pat decided that he wanted to marry her again, suggested the idea during a period of apparent consciousness, fetched the rings and proposed. Fortunately she accepted and we repeated vows we made 40 years ago this year in brother Tom’s house, Chief Judge Barbara Crabb, eyes aglow, officiating. This time we didn’t get beyond love and honor in our vows. Nor did Pat receive a large dowry of stuffed animals from her father, who passed in 2010. But it felt right.
Deirdre passed away on December 17th in almost the same hour as her birth, at the age of 55.
We will be holding a funeral and memorial service next Thursday, December 28th, from 11 AM to 1 PM at the Forsyth Chapel at Forest Hills Cemetery (95 Forest Hills Avenue) in Jamaica Plain, Boston. The format will be storytelling, mostly with emphasis on stories no one has heard, some of which are quite funny. Participants will be offered the chance to speak, in 5-minute segments, and you are encouraged to. There will be some moments of silence at the end to honor all those who have passed whom participants wish to remember. There will be room for many in a beautiful chapel, and all are welcome, but we are also aware that for many this next week is one of the few times they may meet in their own families. If you are able, we would love to see all of you there, though we know that this would be a long journey for some of you, and we understand if you are not able to make it. Additionally, if we have forgotten to write to anyone who knows any of us and would like to attend, please feel free to extend this invitation to them.
Our attention is still taken mostly by the logistics and arrangements death requires, but if you have questions requiring answers before the funeral please send them, with Deirdre’s name in the subject line, to:
Attached for those receiving this email are copies of notices by Deirdre and me on Facebook, and one by me on LinkedIn. The latter, which we respectfully request that you read, explains our request, in lieu of flowers, for donations to the Deirdre Roney Memorial Research Fund at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Development Office, 10 Brookline Place West, Brookline, MA 02445.