Pamela Morgan left her fingerprints everywhere: her family, her church, and deep into her community. The one-time flamenco dancer and co-author of the women’s health bible, "Our Bodies, Ourselves,” died of pancreatic cancer Monday, Nov. 17.
Pamela Morgan left her fingerprints everywhere: her family, her church, and deep into her community.
The one-time flamenco dancer and co-author of the women’s health bible, "Our Bodies, Ourselves,” died of pancreatic cancer Monday, Nov. 17.
Children responded well to her, but so did adults, said her husband, Jonathan Lilienfeld as he described how she could meet someone for the first time and 20 minutes later know everything about that person, including about their sex life.
“She had a special understanding of people,” he said. “It was a unique skill.”
An active member of First Unitarian Society in Newton, much of Morgan’s life revolved around serving others. She was a mentor in the eighth-grade coming-of-age program, a teacher in the children’s religious education program, a member of the choir, and a volunteer membership coordinator.
“Her drive to help other people was genuine,” said Anne Bancroft, who serves as the director of religious education and who counts herself among Morgan’s many friends. “She was particularly adept to being affirming to children and acknowledging each child’s uniqueness. She found something that was special about that child and held it up for them.”
Lilienfeld described his wife as one of those people who’d turn over 20 Christmas trees in a church parking lot, inspecting their height and branch spacing before deciding on the one that would fill her living room for the holidays.
She’d select one that was slightly oversized so she could trim it down to make it fit the living room space. Then, she’d lace on hundreds of lights and ornaments, building it out so big that there was hardly room to sit, her husband remembered.
“She wanted everything to be so perfect,” he said. “Christmas was a special time for her. But that [perfection] translated into other aspects of her life. Everything she did, she did with a sense of quality.”
Her close friend Lorraine Sanik agreed that Morgan had an underlying mission in life to help others. Sanik grew up with Morgan and said Morgan's life was unintentionally intertwined with hers in so many ways. (They both went to Cornell University, they moved to Boston, then to Newton and both married Jonathans.)
Before Morgan left work to raise a family, she helped shape “Our Bodies, Ourselves” as an editor. Often described as a bestseller second to the Bible, “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” which was put out by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, reached women on all continents in a time when women’s health wasn’t a subject widely talked about and when such information was not readily available.
Even as the Internet put health-related information a click away, the Boston-based nonprofit continues to provide women with a resource to learn more about their health.
Her decision to leave work for her two sons — Sam, 20, and Jacob, 15 — was not the traditional path in the late ’80s, but it was something she felt strongly about, said Sanik.
“I am so happy she was able to do that,” she said. “It was almost like she had a strong foresight. She was able to give them a solid grounding in life.”
As soon as Morgan learned she had terminal cancer last November, she immediately went about setting up her husband and sons for success in her absence.
They did a number of home improvement projects, painting their house on Parker Avenue and constructing a deck.
“She wanted to make sure that if she wasn’t here, we’d be all set,” her husband said. Through tearing eyes, he added, “Her biggest concern was not being able to see her children grow up.”
Sanik said of Morgan, “She really wanted her children to know she had done everything she could in fighting this disease, but also to help them and to help Jonathan be able to go on and have the most successful outcome. She wanted them to know they were really her priority.”
Morgan tackled her illness much like she did her life. She followed her own path and set her own styles, Sanik said.
Unlike most other women who had lost their hair due to chemotherapy, she proudly displayed her bald head.
“Her attitude said, ‘this is who I am, I am fighting this cancer,’” Sanik said. “She didn’t want to cover up and hide. But she was the first not to criticize someone else for wearing a wig.”
Morgan told her husband that she wanted to show other women that they could still be proud. Her doctors told her family that they got more out of a relationship with her than she got out of them.
“She had a real drive to improve people’s lives,” Lilienfeld said. “It was how she lived.”
Chrissie Long can be reached at email@example.com.