It’s only been a week, and it seems that so much has already been said of Edie Windsor, the extraordinary 88-year-old force of nature who, for decades, worked for fairness and equality for all.
Mostly known for the historic Windsor v U.S. marriage equality case, whose victory began dismantling the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” and paved the way for marriage equality, I was thrilled to see the world recognize her impact. But there was a lot more to Edie than marriage equality. And that is saying something. As someone who was blessed to work for and with Edie after her Supreme Court victory (what she referred to as her “new-found celebrity”), and as exciting it can sound to recount stories of travel, galas, events and media, it was in the quiet moments of our time together that Edie’s extraordinary spirit really touched me.
We all saw how social media became a flurry of photos with Edie and the shared words of love, sadness and admiration. Some knew her for decades, some only met briefly at an event, but she rarely said no to a request for a photo. Edie only insisted on a few things: One, that is be a good photo; two, no flash; and three, that the person email her a copy. As her publicist/photographer, I took hundreds of photos over the years and she always wanted copies — and in many cases asked me to print some out. She asked for one of my most precious shots, my Mom and Edie at an awards gala in Queens, to put up in her apartment, which meant the world to me. She truly cared for and was very protective of those she called friend and chosen family, and I learned the full extent of that several times. She gushed over me when she met my Mom, and they ended up jokingly arguing of bragging rights for me. She adored my partner, not just because Karen is a fabulous, kind, beautiful woman (Edie’s words and mine), but because she treats me with the love and kindness Edie wants all of us to be blessed with in life.
Edie often spoke about her “love affair with the LGBT community,” especially after the Supreme Court decision, and she could not have described it any better. That is where the little moments come in. While on an Olivia cruise several years ago, a young couple stood up after a screening of the documentary Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement to thank her, as many bi-national couples do, for the fact that her case allowed them to marry and the non-citizen partner could then remain in the U.S. But in this case the young women were from the Middle East and one would have not only been deported, but her family was not supportive and would have had her jailed — and possibly worse — when she returned to her native country. There wasn’t a dry eye in the auditorium. Edie made sure I grabbed them after and invited them back to her cabin so she could hear their story in full and get to know them better.
And I cannot count the number of times children would tell Edie that they had her picture up in their house, and that because of her their parents could get married. Her love of children was well known and this was always a moment that made her beam.
At the very quickly organized event at the Stonewall Inn the day she passed, we celebrated, mourned and remembered Edie, with hundreds gathered to share stories, cry, laugh and dance (Edie loved to dance!), blocks away from where she lived for decades. Again, it was the amazing range of people who knew her — from grassroots activists like Brendan Faye and Cathy Marino-Thomas, who assisted her in traveling with Thea to legally marry and supported her case after Thea passed away, despite the fact that national LGBT organizations told her it was not the “right time.” Edie’s beloved Big Apple Corps was there to play “Over the Rainbow” and her Rabbi, the wonderful Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, held us together with her comforting and powerful words as she introduced speakers honoring Edie as an activist, a trailblazer and a simply extraordinary person.
At her memorial last Friday it truly sunk in for me that she was gone, as I saw mutual friends and could not hold back the tears. When her signature fedora and pink scarf were placed on a small table, it became real. Edie Windsor is gone. There is an empty place in my heart now. Our community and the world is a little less bright, but Edie would want one thing: to fill that space with new joy, love and hope for ourselves and those coming up behind us. In ways big and small, we can all make a difference, if we remain true to ourselves and don’t postpone joy. Just like Edie did for so many years.
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