Earlier today, I attended a celebration of the life of Evelyn Ortner–an amazing woman who came to be a friend in a roundabout way because of technology. The story of how we became friends is a little silly but I’d like to share it nonetheless.  When I graduated college and first moved to New Jersey, I was very green about financial planning, more specifically budgeting for day-to-day expenses.  I had a computer and a printer and a big college loan to pay off.  So, I decided to post my name at the local colleges and universities to type term papers to make some extra money.  I only had one response and it was Mr. Robert Ortner, who was in the process of writing a book and he needed someone to type it up for his editors.  The book was mostly done but I leaped at the job and in the process got to know Bob.  The book was Voodoo Deficits and honestly, well above my head. But that didn’t stop me from typing up the chapters as requested.  Bob learned that I knew something about computers and asked me if I would help him with importing some financial data into Excel and create some simple formulas and trend lines.  Together we developed a simple cheat for using Excel.

As we worked together, Bob said he wanted me to meet his wife, Evelyn, who turned out to be what can only be described as a “force.”  Evelyn was a very smart woman in her own right, at one point serving as a speech writer and adviser for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the Reagan administration.  While she was no longer involved directly in politics, she was indirectly–her passion was domestic violence and an advocacy group she had founded called the Unity Group and she drew me in.  The next thing I knew, I was helping the Unity Group with its membership database and newsletter, helping to organize fund raising events, volunteering to sort clothing at the Unity Thrift Shop and eventually, helping out in a variety of ways in the shelter.  In 2003, the Evelyn Jacob Ortner Center was founded at the University of Pennsylvania to help educate graduate students not only in classical social work but to integrate the issues facing domestic violence across multiple displaces including law enforcement, public policy, health care and more.

Evelyn was renowned for her passionate belief in helping others and her willingness to do what was required to get things done.  She was able to motivate others to believe and work towards a common cause, sometimes through the sheer strength of her will and determination.  As I reflect on how she influenced my life, I can only smile and be grateful for knowing her.  I admired her and will miss her greatly.  Rest in peace, Evelyn, and know that your spirit carries on in not only me but everyone’s life that you touched.  You can read more about Evelyn’s life here and here.