It starts as a thread. Some little tidbit of information dangling out there that captures my attention. A conversation, a news article, radio interview, yes, even Facebook posts and the dance begins.
I reach out and, remarkably, the answer is not only yes but often has led to the next conversation.
That was the case with Judith Kasen-Windsor that ultimately led me to talk about Edie.
“Hello Judith, I host a weekly blog radio podcast. I recently interviewed Walter Naegle (partner of Bayard Rustin) who shared how he is preserving Bayard’s legacy not just in papers but by activities he gets involved with that continue Bayard’s work. I was wondering if you would consider being a guest to talk about Edie?”
Edie Windsor had married Judith in September of 2016 and I saw a similar theme in their stories.
And she said “Yes!” Not just yes but that she said that she “would be happy and honored to share Edie’s story.”
That was in July 2019. We planned to do the interview to coincide with the release of Edie’s memoir in October. We corresponded all summer and once the press began about “A Wild and Precious Life” we started looking for dates.
We had a weekend in September planned but life happened. Judith was involved in a project and I was on baby watch awaiting the birth of my first grandchild. I called and it went to voice mail. The next morning, I reached out again by text.
“Judith, my beautiful granddaughter arrived at 6:25 p.m. I hope your day is going great. Let me know when we might talk this week.”
She replied, “Mazel! I have time for a call right now to schedule the interview.”
As it turns out, she was in their apartment, boxing up Edie’s papers, books and other things to go to New York University to be archived.
There was just something in her voice. We talked for about an hour about the apartment, Edie’s things and how, although sending the boxes to NYU was what Edie wanted, their absence left a hole in her heart.
She arranged for me to receive an advance copy of “A Wild and Precious Life” and we made a date to talk after I had read it.
I read a lot of books, especially when preparing for interviews. I read them quickly and then go back sometimes and revisit. I was ready to speed through “A Wild and Precious Life” but Edie wasn’t having it.
I felt her stretch out her hand and say, “Tell me your name. I’m Edie Windsor.” (I learned this was Edie’s line, before Thea, when meeting a new woman.)
Edie worked on the book with Joshua Lyon until her death. He finished the book using the hundreds of files Edie left behind that included files on all her family members, letters, photographs, musings and detailed day calendars dating back to 1953 among other things. This allowed him to trace every move of her life and provide details to bring the story to life, but the meat of the book was all Edie.
And she told her story from childhood to the end, “warts and all,” as only she could tell. It wasn’t like reading her diary rather than having Edie tell you her story herself.
The challenges her family faced just trying to make it, summer jobs in Atlantic City, dealing with anti-Semitism, seeing neighborhood friends go to war and some not returning.
She was brilliant. Skipping grades in elementary school, graduating early. She loved math receiving her master’s degree in mathematics from NYU in 1957 and broke ground at IBM at a time when women in tech were even rarer than today. Edie was there doing it!
She talks also about her emerging awareness of her sexuality and living in the closet, about taking the then perilous and risky steps to live authentically including life in New York City before Stonewall — the bars, the parties, the hookups. There were women, oh were there ever women! She was quite the heartbreaker.
And then there was Thea Spyer. Their relationship began in 1963 and lasted until Spyer’s death in 2009, A love that would change the trajectory of Edie’s life forever and ultimately the lives of LGBTQ couples thanks to the “United States v. Windsor” decision.
I took Edie to lunch, read her words over dinner. We snuggled on the couch, and yes, I took Edie to bed reading before I went to sleep and picking up her book in the morning.
I laughed, I cried and I recognized what really mattered most in her life was LOVE! Her love of life, love of community, love of justice and, most of all, Thea. And how it allowed her to open her heart after Thea’s death to the LGBTQ community and love again!
So real, so touching. I felt Edie. I thought about her life her times and reflected on mine. She’s no longer just a figure in LGBTQ history, a Supreme Court decision, hers truly was a wild and precious life
I contacted Judith when I finished the book and joking told her, “I think I’m in love with Edie.”
She replied, “I warned you, her book really shows who she was. The people in NYC who knew her really feel it. For those who didn’t know Edie, now they do. Welcome to my world, I can’t stand when people ask me how long we were together I tell them FOREVER (remember, longevity is not an indicator of intensity). She had that special gift, love!”
Preserving Edie’s legacy keeps Judith going these days. Since Edie’s death, Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders, or SAGE, named their drop-in center for Edie Windsor; a cultural medallion from New York’s Historic Preservation Center has been placed on her residence; her hometown Philadelphia named a street “Edie Windsor Way;” and The South Hampton hospital not only named their HIV/AIDS center after her but they plan to expand to two more locations that will also provide services related to women’s health and LGBTQ elders.
This will certainly not be the last book about Edie Windsor. She may be gone but her memory and influence on the lives of many especially within the LGBTQ community continues, reminding us to live, love and carry on our own wild and precious lives.