January 2, 1952 – December 22, 2011
I first met Nancy sometime in 1980, when she joined Walker Associates Inc in Los Angeles as an interior designer. I had been employed there as a graphic designer for six months or less when she arrived. She became my "girl crush" before she became my friend. (As defined by various internet sources, this is an attraction to qualities one envies or admires in another woman…)
Nancy was physically petite like me, and only one year older. Yet, she carried about her an authority and maturity beyond her years. She expected her opinions and performance to be valued, and clearly didn't appreciate it when she felt she was being slighted or ignored. Even when she was riled up, her righteous indignation was somehow endearing.
Whereas I would spend my first minutes at the office each day putting on my makeup, filing down my bitten nails, and trying to make my hair conform to any kind of shape, it seemed to me that Nancy always arrived perfectly put together. Her hair was coiffed in a neat poodle cut, and her polished nails and shoes often coordinated with her clothing. She dressed in a manner both professional and boldly feminine. Lots of color. Nancy wasn't the only woman at WAI to raise the appearance bar for me. I learned, and stepped up my game, but never quite achieved making it look effortless, like Nancy did. There was a palpable amount of shoe envy going on at WAI amongst those of us with the XX chromosomes. In one of the two photos I recently posted, it is possible that Nancy is casting her eyes downward in a moment of reflection. Equally plausible to me, is that she is eyeing and complimenting (coveting) Clara Igonda's shoes.
One Thanksgiving weekend in New York City, I survived a killer cold, bundled up in Nancy's fuzzy, 3/4 length coat, which she had loaned me when my own (favorite) coat was stolen from my car at work.
As opinionated as Nancy was about her work life, she extended her own personal brand of unconditional warmth and acceptance towards me as a friend. Throughout the years, as we'd lose track of one another, then reconnect, I recall receiving a bit of loving advice from Nancy here and there, but never one ounce of comparison or judgment. A favor I returned, I like to think. It was the quality of the time we spent together, rather than the quantity. She had such a capacity, that I feel certain many of Nancy's friends have felt similarly nurtured by her. The thing I enjoy recalling the most about Nancy in our days of yore, was her voice and laughter—and this unique talent she had. She could chuckle and speak whole sentences at the same time.
My favorite story about Nancy:
The project managers at Walker Associates were encouraged to recognize and reward their teams (which typically consisted of the manager, one designer and two draftsmen) for their work. One Monday, this story circulated: Nancy's project manager had taken his team out for a meal and a late afternoon sail in a rented sailboat/dinghy from Marina Del Rey. After too much fine drink and food, the manager became incapacitated, unable to pilot the boat. Nancy took command of the tiller and sail and sailed the boat, the ailing manager, and two extremely nervous draftsmen safely back into the harbor just as dusk closed in. When pressed, Nancy graciously soft-pedaled her manager's impairment but confirmed the other facts. It intrigued me to learn yet another facet of Nancy. Underneath her toy poodle-miniature pinscher exterior, was a less domestic sort of animal altogether. She, of the fire engine-red fingernails and stiletto heels, had grown up rowing summer provisions across a lake to the family cabin, and had sailed a sailboat or two. I now had an expanded picture of her, growing up a sometimes-outdoorsy girl, and daughter of a career military man, who could perform under pressure as required.
Two years ago, I felt inspired to google Nancy and pick up the phone. A somewhat courageous act when a half-dozen or more years had elapsed. That impulse allowed me the opportunity to fill in more color between the lines… e.g., when Nancy spontaneously shared her high school yearbooks and memories with me. I was so not surprised to learn she had excelled at just about everything one can excel at in high school, including popularity and leadership. But didn't peak there. I also got to experience the peaceful elegance of the home which Nancy and Tom built together, which reflects so much of Nancy's taste and style. As she said, after years of creating beautiful spaces for others, she was at last able to create one for herself.
Nancy and I had lunch together at the end of September 2011, the week before my high school reunion in Los Angeles. We spoke of our shared days at Walker Associates so long ago, and tossed around Nancy's idea for a little pilgrimage we could make to LA, together. Nancy was very thin, and her graft-host reaction presented itself as a first degree burn all over her skin. Yet, her personality and spirit seemed so undaunted by what she'd already undergone this past year, 'twas as though it was ordained that she would survive. I couldn't imagine otherwise.
I will always be grateful that we each took time out for a two-hour lunch. My sole regret: that my daughter Kit never got to re-meet Nancy, as a young adult. Nancy's parting words to me were, I want to hear all about your reunion—and tell your daughter I want to see her when she's home at Christmas. I know they would've hit it off famously and found much to talk about.
At the end, I came to know that Nancy had the heart of a tigress. In my minds eye, she is still/ever rowing (deftly) across the lake to her family cabin, laughing her inimitable Nancy laugh, wearing a red windbreaker, with the wind ruffling her wavy hair. Although it was a tough ride, I thank her husband, Tom, for allowing her friends and family to participate in her final days on this earth through his email updates. To paraphrase an old proverb/adage: friendship doubles our joy, and divides our grief in half.