Saturday, November 6, 2010

In Memory of Ellen

Our friend Ellen Lutz died Thursday night.  It was coming for months and indeed we knew earlier in the week that it would be only days.  I want to say, although I cannot be sure, that Ellen battled breast cancer for at least 7 years.  I remember her telling me after I found out about my own cancer that she was alone during her first chemo treatments and her children were in high school.  Both of her children are in their early 20s so I am estimating based on that memory.

Ellen in September 2010
I first met Ellen in 1986 in Oahu. She and her then husband, Glenn, met Paul and me for a working vacation.  We had our sons with us- mine was 2 and theirs was 1.  We all hopped in a rental car and drove on the coastal highway outside of Honolulu.  At some point we stopped at a mansion on the beach.  Ellen hopped out of the car and ran with an envelope toward the house.  She was serving Ferdinand Marcos with the complaint in a human rights case that she and my husband had filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act!

I reconnected with Ellen on Facebook last year.  She reached out to me by email when I got my cancer diagnosis and wrote encouraging missives about how to cope with chemo and hair loss.  At the same time, her cancer was back and had passed into her brain.  Notwithstanding the radiation treatment she was undergoing at the time, she and her husband Ted came out to Los Angeles in February (I believe) and called to see if they could stop by.  I was feeling too sick from the chemo so we did not get to see them then.  Luckily, Paul was able to see Ellen last month in Boston, shortly before she could no longer tolerate having visitors.

Here is an obit that Ted wrote for Ellen.  She was a remarkable person-- warm, funny, smart and very driven to do good in the world.  I understand she died with dignity and luckily was not in pain.  I wish I could accomplish what she did, both in living and in dying.

Ellen L. Lutz, an international human rights lawyer, teacher, and activist, died on November 4 at her home in CambridgeMA. The cause was metastatic breast cancer.  She was 55. 

During her final two years battling the disease, she directed the Cambridge-based human rights organization Cultural Survival, co-edited two pioneering books (Prosecuting Heads of State (Cambridge U. Press) and Human Rights and Conflict Management in Context (Syracuse U. Press), submitted formal reviews on state behavior to the UN Human Rights Council, led international litigation on behalf of Panama’s threatened Nobe Indians, and sang alto with the Harvard-Radcliffe Chorus, each with equal enthusiasm and skill.  

Her concern for human rights began when, as a 15 year old exchange student to Uruguay, she witnessed the onset of Uruguay’s state sponsored “Dirty War,” and supported the international human rights movements such actions spawned across Latin American during the 1970s. Logically, after graduating Summa Cum Laude from Temple University (1976) and obtaining a Master’s Degree in Anthropology from Bryn Mahr (1978), she took a Law Degree in International Law and Human Rights from Boalt Hall Law School (University of California at Berkeley) in 1985.

Ellen’s persistent interest in Latin America continued as professional work with Amnesty International (1979-81),in Washington ,DC, and in San Francisco. She later headed the California office of Huma Rights Watch (1989-94), where she conducted research and published on little-known but extensive human rights abuses in Mexico,  and she was co-counsel in two groundbreaking human rights cases in US courts, against the infamous Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and Argentine General Suarez-Mason.

Moving with her family to Westborough Massachusetts in 1994, she helped to set up and then served as Executive Director of the Center for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, taught international law. human rights, and mediation at Tufts, Harvard and the University of Massachusetts, and wrote widely. One of her students, now a professor at OccidentalCollege, recalled how “warm and desirous she was of connecting to students amid the formal Fletcher iciness, a marvelous force of nature.” 

Ellen was asked to become Executive Director of Cultural Survival in 2004, where she increased the participation of indigenous people on the Board of Directors and Program Council, while steering the organization away from local development projects to broad human rights initiatives. “Development work like building schools, digging wells, and providing services is what governments should be doing,” she said. “Our work is to make sure governments live up to their obligations.”

One of her colleagues wrote, “It would be difficult to quantify Ellen’s ferocious passion for justice. Her zeal and natural warm-heartedness combined with a legal rigor that made her a truly formidable advocate.”  There was much of such personal and professional praise. But, perhaps the most encompassing and, for Ellen, meaningful compliment came from Stella Tamang, a Nepalese tribal leader and friend. 

To Ellen, my Kalyana Mitra,

In Buddhism Kalyana means Wellbeing and Mitra means friend. Kalyana Mitra therefore means friends who always think about their wellbeing.  You have been such wonderful friend, a constant support during the problems I was facing about the political problem back inNepal.  We also talked about family, our children, and life.  I am blessed to have a friend like you.  We believe that if a person has done good Karma, he or she gets to meet with wonderful people, and you are the one for me.

And Ellen was not a Buddhist. 

Ellen is survived by her husband Theodore Macdonald, an anthropologist previously with Cultural Survival and now with Harvard University, and her two children from a previous marriage, David and Julia Randall, now studying at the University of Massachusetts and Harvard, respectively. Her cat, Misty, and dog, Churi, are well taken care of. All are thankful to their Kalyana Mitra.

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