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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Edie Windsor's (z"l) Legacy Lives On

Reprinted from the internal Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT+) IBMers & Friends community

At about 57 minutes in, during the inaugural 60 Minutes to Bolder Leadership Panel on Monday, IBMer Ella Slade asked the Out-Role-Model panelists who their role models were. I was the moderator, so I didn't answer, but if I had answered, I'd have answered Edie Windsor (z"l).
We first met in 2002, when IBM alumnus Joseph Bertolotti and I organized a panel on the state of same-sex marriage around the world. IBM co-sponsored it at the LGBT Center in New York City with the United Nations' Susan Allee, an attorney who was also the head of the Middle East Peacekeeping Desk and a member of GLOBE, the LGBT employee group of the UN. Edie and her then long-time partner Thea Spyer (z"l) attended and spoke with me afterward. 
They were there because they were planning to marry and wanted to know the very latest of trends and timing on where it was being made legal. Edie also was happy that IBM had co-sponsored it because she said she had been an IBMer. Edie and her wife were so glamorous. And so down to earth. All at once. I loved meeting a lesbian IBMer who had worked at IBM in New York City, like me, only a generation prior. And we exchanged email addresses and stayed in touch a bit. Sometime later, reading an article, I think, I learned that she and her wife were Jewish, like mine and me! A bonus. I wanted to be like Edie Windsor, even a little bit. 

And then with the help of a phenomenal lawyer Roberta Kaplan, Edie Windsor made it possible for my wife and me to marry legally, which we did, and at the newspaper's suggestion, we even made a 3-minute video about how we got together. Edie Windsor became an icon and I was moved to post a "Where were you ...?" forum entry in our internal LGBT+ IBMers & Friends community the day of the decision. That Yom Kippur, my mom (z"l) opted to join us for services at our synagogue and we were blessed to be sitting right near Edie Windsor, who had recently become a congregant.

My mom's (z"l) name also was Edie, and she was just four years older than Edie Windsor. When I introduced them, my mother started crying and effusively thanked Edie for her leadership. They hugged. My mom said she had a gift for Edie and we shipped Edie a mezuzah, though she was a less observant Jew than we were. That was my mom's final Yom Kippur. She died peacefully in her sleep the following early-June. I still had one more Edie, at least, but it was complicated because Edie had first seemed glamorous to me, and both Pat & I formed a bit of a crush on her. And then she became the Edie who was my gone mother's contemporary plus the incidental mentor and icon on whom I had a crush, and I was happy to live with the complexity.

This past June, I was privileged to speak with Judith Kasen, Edie's new wife, by phone, to arrange for a rendezvous with Edie and Judith and the IBM delegation of the LGBT Pride March in New York City, so that she could march with us for a bit. During that conversation, Judith told me that Edie displayed the mezuzah atop her piano, which held all of the awards she had received, and Judith kindly sent me a photo.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. In 2015 and 2016, we were privileged to go to Edie's house for a summer-time party; she had the best music and liked to dance, and then Roberta Kaplan's book came out and we brought it with us for Edie to sign:


   

 
In 2016, Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, Fred Balboni, Claudia Woody, Beth Feeney, Mary Garrity and Bruno Di Leo invited Edie to have lunch at IBM at 590 Madison Avenue in New York City and I was kindly invited to join along with Kim Messer of the LGBT business development team that I had helped start up in 2001 -- and which was how the event at the LGBT Center in 2002 came to be co-sponsored by IBM -- and also Leanne Pittsford, the CEO of Lesbians Who Tech. At that lunch, I was reminded of why I admired Edie so much: She was a charming, staunch activist. My favorite photo that I got to take that day was of Edie striding down the hall at 590 (and Fred's husband Geoff Collins is accompanying her, carrying her flowers). And Judith did make it possible for Edie to stride with us at the LGBT Pride March this summer:

Edie, thanks for your dedication to innovation that matters, for our company and the world, and for being someone magnificent for me to look up to. And please know that the 60-Minutes-to-Bolder-Leadership panelists in the series, and other LGBT+ IBMers and allies will keep working hard to make our clients and IBM successful while being corporate activists in parallel to honor your legacy.