July 17, 2012
“The memory of the righteous is a blessing.” --Proverbs
It’s been a hard summer with the unnecessarily protracted power outages in Maryland and climate change multiplying extreme weather events and drought across most of the country.
It got much harder over the last few weeks with the loss of three dear friends. In June we lost Sheryl Gilbert, a beautiful soul fluent in French language and culture, a progressive Democrat, and loving mother and wife. Last week we lost Professor Paul Rice, a cherished colleague of mine at the Washington College of Law who was a dazzling, celebrated professor of Evidence for 38 years. He was remembered at a service at AU on Sunday. Family and friends will be honoring Sheryl next Thursday.
But I wanted to tell you in this letter just a little bit about the remarkable life of my beloved friend, District 20’s own Rebecca Lord, the Political Director of my first campaign for the State Senate in 2006. Rebecca and I are of the same generation and shared many of the same passions in life. She died on Sunday, and her death is a terrible loss to her family and to the people of Silver Spring and Takoma Park.
Rebecca passed away Sunday after a twelve-year fight with cancer. She leaves her husband, the noted attorney Jonathan Shurberg, who was the love of her life, two spectacular and soulful children, Eli and Ethan, and a giant void in District 20 and Montgomery County politics where her exemplary heart and mind were.
Born in 1965, Rebecca grew up in the hardscrabble Bible Belt country of rural South Texas, in a town of 1,000 people called Sabinal steeped in fundamentalist religion and right-wing politics. Her family had no television and no record player and no connection to the progressive and liberal ideas that would become a commanding passion of Rebecca’s life. She shared a bed for most of her childhood with her sister Jennifer.
Rebecca was the fourth of four children and, like so many youngest children, she was a rebel, an iconoclast and someone who spoke the truth to power before anyone even had a chance to eat breakfast. She found solace and hope—she found the world and she found herself—in books.
She would read a book every day, sometimes two. Nothing could contain her insatiable intellectual appetite: Latin American history, Stephen King and Agatha Christie, Montaigne, Rousseau, Liberation Theology, romance novels, political philosophy, art history, and on and on, each book opening up another compartment in her mind, a window onto a world she was desperate to see.
The story I will never get over is this: When she was a junior in high school, living in a community where “everyone knew everyone else’s business,” Rebecca—a straight-A student far better read than any of her teachers--was chosen to go into the Sabinal High School Honor Society and was given the chance to make a speech on this high occasion. She wrote a speech that had one unforgivable sin identified by the school authorities: it told the truth. It told the truth about the culture of her town, the good, the bad, and the ugly, the wonderful loyalty and civic-mindedness of the people, the racism and sexism and close-mindedness that she thought were suffocating the future. And, in due course, the speech was censored and Rebecca’s invitation to speak withdrawn.
And, with that perfectly symbolic gesture revealing how much her hometown school was interested in education, Rebecca Lord refused to go back. She simply dropped out and took her GED instead—her sister Jennifer (who is as charming and funny as Rebecca) told me yesterday that Rebecca was the only girl in the history of Sabinal to drop out of high school and take the GED who wasn’t pregnant!
But Rebecca never let schooling interfere with her education. She began to travel in the U.S. and in Mexico, where she learned to speak Spanish. She went to the University of Texas at Austin, got involved with the Central American solidarity movements of the 1980s, and graduated with Honors in 1987. Then she came to American University’s Washington College of Law, where she found a progressive intellectual community, lifelong friends, and, above all, the love of her life, her impassioned and equally combative and hilariously funny soul mate, Jonathan Shurberg.
Their marriage is one of the great love stories I know. Their life together was filled every day with an overflowing passion for books, progressive politics, education, food (always food!), food and drink, fine wine, entertaining, local restaurants, Rock and Roll, sad country music, classical music, and constant foreign travel. Rebecca also had a singular passion to see cave paintings all over the world.
When I first met Jon and Rebecca back in 2005, I had no idea that she had advanced thyroid cancer. She had recently gotten a PhD in Latin American History at the University of Maryland and was involved in a whirlwind of activities while raising the boys. When I asked her if she would help me with my fledgling underdog Senate campaign, she said, “whatever you need,” and she meant it.
Rebecca quickly became my Political Director, which meant that in theory that she was supposed to collect big-name endorsements for me; in practice, it meant she knocked on doors with me through the sweltering summer months of 2006, morning, noon and night. She had a magic touch at the doors, and at her funeral tomorrow I will tell a lot of stories about what life on the road was like with Rebecca Lord. But the thing that I will remember most is that Rebecca always acted as if we had already won and that we were ready to serve the people we met. If someone had a problem with a traffic light or Pepco (yes, even back then!) or a problem understanding state law, she would dutifully record the issue and then , that same night, research it, contact the relevant authority, and solve the problem, come hell or high water.
Rebecca taught me, through her love of people and her ebullient commitment to serve, that all politics is about constituent service and if you’re not interested in solving other people’s problems, well, you’re not interested in politics. I give everyone my cell number because Rebecca gave everyone her cell number.
Rebecca, who never lost her love of what is best in Texas culture, helped spearhead the campaign event we had with Texas populist hellraiser Jim Hightower. I remember when Hightower arrived that night at Los Arieros and we greeted him, I told him that Rebecca was a native Texan and he looked around and said, “then how did you let these Yankees wear all these terrible cowboy hats?” And Rebecca said: “And I didn’t have the heart to tell Jamie that Texans don’t square-dance either!”
In June of 2006, I learned that Rebecca had cancer because she experienced a bad flare-up and further spread of the disease. I insisted that she stay home but she refused to. One day, carrying a book of candidate questionnaires that she was filling out for me, she slipped and fell and broke her arm. Two days later, I kid you not, she was back knocking on doors with me, a stage-4 cancer survivor with a broken arm walking through the streets of Colesville in 98-degree weather.
Rebecca made some of her best friends on that first campaign--Miti Figueredo, with whom she was inseparable, Marlana and Bill Valdez whom she adored, campaign manager David Moon and deputy campaign manager Ryan O’Donnell who never failed to crack her up, and the revered Esther Gelman, whom she loved and who transmitted to Rebecca all of her wisdom about the history of County politics, and so many more.
After we won, Rebecca went to work on the County Council, first for Roger Berliner and then for Nancy Floreen. Her brilliance, prodigious research skill, and infectious love for people made her shine in that context.
When I turned up with my own cancer diagnosis in the spring of 2010, Rebecca quickly found me an oncologist in District 20, gave me an armful of books to read (not books about cancer, but books about life and travel), brought me dinner frequently, and took me to chemotherapy four different times, and this is when she was undergoing chemo herself. One of those times she apologized for being late because she had just returned from a trip to Slovenia a few hours before and overslept! (Rebecca was a voracious world traveler who—in just the seven years I knew her—traveled to Barcelona, Paris, Slovenia and Croatia, Brazil, Portugal, London, Seattle, and Asheville, North Carolina!) That day she read to me favorite passages from Montaigne, including his meditation on Epictetus’ statement that, to the philosophers, “death is nothing to us” because it ends all physical sensation and experience so the wise will focus on life up until the end, and not fear death nor be obsessed with it.
Rebecca—vivacious, beautiful, filled with love of the world-- lived life like a philosopher until she took her final breath on Sunday at a hospice in Columbia, Maryland.
I wish somehow I could have given back to her just a fraction of what she gave to me in the course of her remarkable and unfairly short life.
So we are left to celebrate her accomplishments and her gifts, embrace her beautiful family (a houseful of rowdy boys), and then take seriously the words of Montaigne and Epictetus--and Mother Jones, who infused the philosophers’ sentiment with the populist Texan spirit that was in Rebecca’s bones: “Pray for the dead, but fight like hell for the living.”
Below are a few pictures of Rebecca, including one of Rebecca protesting for health care for all, a cause close to her heart, along with women’s rights and reproductive freedom and health.
Rebecca’s funeral service is at 10:00 AM tomorrow, Wednesday, July 18 at Temple Shalom. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to Rebecca’s favorite charity, Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington by clicking here.
Hope to see you there.
All best wishes,
p.s. In Rebecca’s spirit, you might want to join the Greater Silver Spring Democratic Club and Obama for America, which are gathering activists tonight at 7:00 PM in the Obama office in Kensington to celebrate our victory in the Affordable Care Act decision and to place calls to supporters for the fall campaign. CLICK HERE