I’d been meaning to visit the website for about a month—ever since I’d heard about it on Freakonomics—but I just hadn’t found the time.  Then a link to appeared on my Facebook Timeline beside a thumbnail picture of Pat Kelly, the former Assistant Head of the Solomon Schechter School where I spent the first five years of my rabbinate. I’d planned to visit for research purposes; instead I must visit to leave a condolence message.

The thing that struck me when I first heard about is that they employ screeners to moderate these messages.  According to the Freakonomics report, “ believes that a legacy truly is forever, and that it shouldn’t be sullied by inappropriate comments.”  This jibes with Jewish traditions regarding eulogies, as well as with the wisdom of mothers everywhere.  The rabbis of the Talmud discuss how to eulogize a not-so-nice person, concluding that one must not offer effusive praise that strains the credibility of both speaker and listeners. The podcast is definitely worth a listen, but I want to get back to what I found at the website.

I was surprised by how saddened I was to read of Pat’s death. She had lived a full life and, as a faithful Catholic had always believed that death was merely the beginning of a new chapter. In addition, Pat retired shortly after I moved away, and I hadn’t spoken to her in more than a decade.  So why did I find tears clouding my vision each time I sat down to work at the computer?

One of the last times I saw Pat, before I packed up my small office in the Middle School building, she gave me a framed card that I have kept in every office I have occupied since then.  I hadn’t realized how much her wish—written in her impeccable hand—had guided me through my years in the rabbinate. Pat’s presence in my life was palpable; her absence in this world difficult to accept.

When my son found me sniffling quietly as I stared at the computer screen, I told him that I was sad because an old friend and mentor had died. But I was also happy: reading a condolence message from Daniel S., I felt Pat was in the room with me.

Years ago, I was a troublemaker at Solomon Schechter School, and Mrs. Kelly was assigned to the task of helping me to straighten up and fly right. I dreaded being sent to her office. But over the years, she helped me to grow, giving me artwork assignments to decorate the school and helping me to discover the talents I had to offer to others. She saw the spark in me and nurtured it. Years later, when I taught at Schechter, she was a mentor and friend. I am truly saddened by the news of her passing. She was a wonderful and positive influence in my life, and shares credit for my being an elementary teacher today. shares credit for connecting two people who didn’t know each other but knew Pat Kelly, and were inspired and nurtured by her.  For a brief moment, we were brought together to mourn her death, celebrate her life and bear witness to her legacy.


Comments (2)

How sad that people would go to a legacy website and say inappropriate things! I love your line: “This jibes with Jewish traditions regarding eulogies, as well as with the wisdom of mothers everywhere. ” If everyone listened to his/her mom, the world would be a much more polite place.

Pat Kelly sounds like she was a blessing in others’ lives. I love the card.

The true blessing was that I encountered Pat Kelly early in my rabbinate, when I was young and in need of a mentor, but old enough to appreciate what a gift her friendship and counsel was. Later, when I was a teacher & mentor to younger colleagues, I thought of her often and asked myself “what would Pat Kelly do? often. Thanks for reading & commenting on the piece, Ginny!

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