Yesterday, I read about the death of a member of Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community. Her name was Madeleine Hershey and she was 51 years old. I knew her only very casually, but I was struck by her family’s decision to self-publish her obituary. This is what I read:
Below is Madeleine’s obituary and information about celebrations in honor of her life. The obituary contains a word that does not get published by family newspapers. We have opted to self publish the obituary in full rather than pay a newspaper to censor a word Madeleine championed. Please help us spread the news and the word by sharing this status as you see fit. And if this February you find yourself at a production of the Vagina Monologues, feel free to shout out a cheer at the mention of the woman from Pittsburgh who had to talk about texture, and a certain pejorative word.
So I reached out and offered to publish her obituary with the word that does not get published by family newspapers. It is a small service to someone who gave so much. It is also a reminder of how important it is to learn the stories of our community before the obituary is published – to engage one another while we are alive. I am sorry that I did not know Mad more than casually. I resolve to turn other casual encounters around in honor of her spirit and the outpouring of love she has engendered from the community.
I was also sobered to realize that another community leader, Dr. Deb Aaron, was also 51 when she lost her battle with cancer. That was 2008. Deb also was someone who gave so much to the community, things that many may never know about now.
I also want to be sure to include specific information that Mad’s wife Michelle asked to be shared:
We are grateful for the outpouring of love and support from family and friends – too many to mention in this post, but I do want to thank … Family Hospice for being so well informed, above-board, for making it clear that you heard us, for respecting our family’s values and priorities, and communicating clearly in a way that supported our informed choices. I only wish we had worked with you sooner. I would encourage anyone in western PA who receives a life-threatening diagnosis to learn about the Family Hospice agency early on.
Rest in peace, Rise in power, Madeleine.
– Sue and The Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents Team
Madeleine Hershey died in her home held by loved ones on January 17, 2015. Madeleine was born in Squirrel Hill (Pittsburgh, PA) to Carol Hershey (nee Fine) and Nathan Hershey. She is survived by her partner of 20 years, Michelle Wirth; her dear sister Suzanne Hershey (Girish Altekar); father Nathan Hershey; and many beloved family members and friends.
Madeleine briefly attended Allderdice High School and Antioch College, but preferred hands-on learning. She found her calling as a deep tissue massage therapist, through which she used her strength, gentleness, and meticulous attention to detail to serve hundreds of people for over 27 years. In addition to running her small business, she joined with Darlene Smith, Aurora Smith, and Amy Simpson, to form the group The Great Lominies, and together they gave sacred lomi massage to people embarking on transitions.
Among Madeleine’s many great talents were an incredible ability to bring together diverse groups of people, a knack for home and office organizing which she gleefully turned into a successful business as The Space Queen, and being a great shot with a pistol.
Following an early performance of the Vagina Monologues, Madeleine started an enthusiastic conversation with playwright Eve Ensler that resulted in the monologue “Reclaiming Cunt,” which has been performed for audiences around the world.
Madeleine was a co-founder, along with friends RT Peck and Jen Saffron, of the Initiative for Transgender Leadership (ITL), a group whose mission is to positively effect community life by promoting the professional and leadership development of transgender youth. ITL has partnered with local community members and raised over $10,000 to provide paid internships to transgender youth.
In her personal charter, Madeleine declared: “My purpose in life is to expose all beings to their own magnificence. The values at the heart of who I am are love, integrity, compassion, play. I can be counted on to instigate, illuminate, and arouse.”
She fulfilled her purpose.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to the Initiative for Transgender Leadership, in care of Persad Center, 5150 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15224.
Celebrations of Mad’s life will be held on Saturday, February 14 and on Saturday, April 11. Mad and Michelle hosted an annual comfort food potluck each year on the Saturday closest to Valentine’s Day. It is in keeping with Mad’s tradition of sharing love and comfort to celebrate her and hold her extra close in our hearts on that day. April 11, 2015 would have been Mad’s 52ndbirthday. We will visit her marker at the Homewood Cemetery and gather at their home afterward. More details will be forthcoming.