Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tribute to a Founding PPACer

Yesterday, PDF printed a news item about our dear friend, colleague and PPAC member Joanna T. Steichen, M.S.W.

At PDF, we are mourning the loss of this passionate member of the Parkinson’s community. In doing so, we of course find ourselves reminiscing…about her many accomplishments, the many PDF projects in which she had a hand and her friendship.

For those of you who did not know Ms. Steichen, we urge you to take a look at this biography compiled on our website, which is quite inspiring. For those of you lucky enough to call Ms. Steichen a friend, we reserve this space for our memories and tributes from you, about her time with us.

Please share your thoughts below.

  • To comment or view comments: Click "Comments" or "Post a Comment" below.
  • To see Ms. Steichen's biography on the PDF website: Click here.


Jerry Terrill said...

Joanna Steichen inspired me by walking with child-like enthusiasm.
She worked out on a treadmill to keep herself in shape to walk with such apparent ease. Her charm was exhibited in finely tailored apparel and conversation which enlivened serious subjects and trivial details with pertinent observations and genuine feelings.

David Eger said...

Sad news indeed. Joanna was a force to be reckoned with. She was interesting, creative, insistent and often very right. She told marvelous tales of an experientially rich and variegated life, largely defined by "Steichen," as she often referred to him. And she could be tough as nails.

The last time we were together was when we happened to be visiting Bruce Talbot. Joanna came in and I noticed she didn't say hello. As we were all leaving (Bruce was getting tired), she raised her cane towards me and asked pointedly when I thought we might speak to one another again. Of course, it was one of those moments when every one froze, I along with them. Joanna enjoyed the effect of her sudden strike, as she looked around triumphantly smiling. On the elevator down I told her I didn't realize we were at war and maybe we needed to talk (one therapist to another, I thought). She said we did but with a tone that stated clearly "not now!" And now, not ever.

I will miss her. It would have been an enlightening discussion.

David Eger

Jo-Anne Lazarus said...

Joanna Steichen was an inspirational leader on PPAC who persistently reminded us that we must create mechanisms/programs that directly result in benefits for people currently living with Parkinson disease. Her infectious enthusiasm in pursuing positive changes for all those living with PD was inexhaustible, just as she was, and delightfully so.

Rhona Johnson said...

I am so very sad to learn that we have lost Joanna She embodied all that I feel PPAC wants to be: dedicated and persistent in seeking ways to help those with Parkinson's and to stimulate research for a cure, and doing it all with such creativity, passion, style and intellect. Thank you Joanna and we will miss you, and how inadequate these words seem.

Ann Wasson said...

Words do not convey the sense of loss I felt upon hearing of Joanna’s death. No words can recapture Joanna’s vibrant, dedicated, and witty character.

There was no confining Joanna to one role. As a young woman she bought herself an airplane which she loved flying. She wrote an odd book, Marrying Up: an American Dream and Reality, Why Some Make It Into the Inner Circle and Others Never Will. I read it and would describe it as a field guide to the extremely wealthy. Joanna spent thirty years as a successful New York psychotherapist, specializing in narcissistic personality disorders. And she was photographer Edward Steichen's widow and gatekeeper. She credited her experiences traveling in Steichen’s circle for her ability to withstand the overpowering quality of people’s exterior glamour. She was a shrewd judge of character.

For the past three years, we participated in the Parkinson’s Unity Walk in Central Park. That first year as we approached the finish line, we saw some kids standing on a bench shouting. A few steps later we realized that they were shouting encouragement, and not only that but they were shouting encouragement to us. “Exhausted, empowered by sheer will,” [Joanna] said in a PDF newsletter, “we shuffled to the finish line. Though tired, I felt an exuberance that had been missing for a long time.”

Invigorated by our triumphal march, Joanna invited all of her fellow walkers to her apartment afterwards. Beginning with champagne, the party went on into the night and it was only reluctantly that Joanna opened the door and we two or three stragglers left.

The following year, Joanna’s party was more organized. We at least took showers and changed out of our sweaty clothes before heading over to uncork the celebratory champagne.

This past year, just four months ago, Joanna threw her party with just two of us. The champagne was just as lovely and the conversation intelligent and bright. We relished the pure ease that comes from having only tribe members—people with Parkinson’s disease--in the room. Ultimately the three of us tackled, sometimes heatedly, that omnipresent question of whether and what is God.

That was the last time I saw Joanna. When we parted, again reluctantly, again late into the night, or, rather, early into the morning, we all felt a deep sense of enduring comradeship, respect, and affection. I looked forward to next year.

Now those nights will have to sustain me over the years as I continue to walk those two miles in Central Park to raise money to combat Parkinson’s and to fund the types of programs Joanna was passionate about: centers of exercise and movement accessible in every community, but particularly in New York City.

And, Joanna, assuming that now you know the answer, tell me: Does God exist?

God knows I will miss you.

I smiled to read that Joanna died not in NYC, but in Montauk where she looked forward to spending her summers. Then I read that she had not died of a heart attack as I had heard but had drowned. My anger flared up in anguish. This damned disease we shared! I know what it is like to flail around in 3 feet of water unable to gain control. Perhaps she hit her head and was unconscious. “Perhaps” is a wish. Damn this disease! I hate that we have to cure it in her memory.