Thursday, June 12, 2008


I met a wonderful woman two years after I started practicing law. She was also a corporate lawyer, fresh out of law school, who joined the firm I was with. I thought she was terrific from the instant we met. She had the sharpest, wittiest, most ironic sense of humor, a quick intelligence, and more than the usual allotment of plain good sense. She was tall and lanky (to this day, I have never met a woman who looked better in a pair of jeans), and she had twinkly blue eyes and a shock of smooth blond hair cut perfectly to compliment her delicate, high-cheekboned face. We soon became friends outside of work as well. We liked each other's husbands (not always a given) and they liked each other, too. In fact, they developed a close friendship quite independent of us and it flourishes to this day, 27 years later.

For some reason I forgot long ago, my friend and I took to walking home together after work. Well, not home exactly. We'd leave our offices at Dearborn and Madison in Chicago's Loop and walk up Michigan Avenue to Water Tower Place, where she would head east to her Streeterville apartment and I would jump on the 135 bus up to Belmont Harbor.

On those walks, we talked about anything and everything, and the conversations were so engaging that I never even noticed the actual walking. (Anyone who knows me knows that I rarely walk even a block without complaining, and that was only slightly less true 27 years ago. Trudging, especially for over a mile through heat, humidity and Chicago's pedestrian traffic, has never been a favorite activity of mine. Add to that the more formal work clothes and shoes we wore in the 80s and you'll get an idea of how truly great our conversations were.) We cut the more pompous of our colleagues down to size, we solved legal problems, we griped about the illogicalities of our work environment, and we plotted strategies for our careers and our lives.

I'm convinced that those conversations were a big part of what set us on the road to career success. Having similarly-situated girlfriends is necessary to flourishing in settings where we are not the norm, where the rules were not written by or for us, and where we have to question our instincts because, however solid they may be in other arenas, they are not usually hardwired for naturally understanding how to succeed in male-dominated work environments. During the early years of my career, I felt like an impostor most of the time and, occasionally, like an unwelcome interloper. In addition to being incredibly supportive and reassuring, my daily conversations with my friend as we walked up Michigan Avenue kept me sane, grounded and focused. They helped me be happy at work. And they were the inspiration for the "girls club" scenes, which I loved writing, in A Merger of Equals.

After a few years, I had a baby and left the firm for a more workable schedule at a company in the suburbs. Not too long after, my friend did the same. She and her family moved west of the city; I had moved north with mine. We saw each other frequently at first, then less frequently, then rarely, although we always stayed in touch through our husbands, if not directly. I have never forgotten or stopped being grateful for our years of working together and walking together.

My husband and I have just flown home from my friend's heartbreaking funeral. Heartbreaking because she was a superb, intelligent, humorous person the world shouldn't be without. Heartbreaking because she was much too young and she spent the last two and a half years in a nasty battle with cancer. Heartbreaking because she leaves behind three amazing daughters and an exceptionally wonderful husband, as well as siblings, a parent, nieces, nephews, and countless friends, all of whom will miss her terribly. I feel incredibly lucky to have had her as a close friend and colleague when I needed her most.

Requiescat in pace.


NW said...

Debra, I am sorry to hear of your loss of such a wonderful friend. I know you appreciated and savored all the moments of your friendship -- and as I read your essay I was reminded of my own such blessings (you among them). Thanks for sharing that.

karl androes said...


I'm glad you reposted this recently. It made me think of Geri Penner when I read the title of the blog. But then I got this lovely tribute to someone else. Not to trivialize such things, but I bet we all hope someone knows us and treasures us enough to write such a remembrance when we die. Thank you.