Friday, May 13, 2005

My Friend Lily

Last Friday Lily Heyen Withrow passed away at John Muir Hospital. Benicia and Vallejo lost an advocate, this country lost a patriotic daughter, and I lost a friend. Above all, however, Miko lost a devoted mom and Lew a loving wife. I do know how he feels today and won’t cheapen his grief with inadequate words.

But words were important to Lily and to those of us who were privileged to know her. She was the best damned writer in the county and the most aggressively honest reporter in the Bay Area. It was that honesty, that reportorial skill, and a keen sense of right and wrong that drove Lily to bring Vallejo’s LNG story to statewide and, indeed, national attention…when others were content to publish half the story or let it slide entirely. Whenever out-of-town reporters wanted to get up to speed, I always referred them to Lily’s many stories on For those stories were always accurate, thorough, and balanced. And, when, it was over, I recall saying – very seriously – that, if there were a Pulitizer Prize for internet reporting, Lily would have won it hands down.

I will also remember Lily as a solid patriot who understood that the best thing she could give her country was not unthinking acquiescence but the benefit of her critical thinking and her love. Her obituary was devoid of the little American flag that the Times-Herald reserves for military veterans. Funny, however, that flag still appeared right next to her ever-smiling face. One of my favorite sayings is: “Serendipity is just God’s way of keeping a low profile.” She – God – knew just where that flag belonged.

Lily imparted to the word “Liberal” the same respectability she did to “patriot.” To her it was not a dirty word, but a proud calling to stick up for the little guy in the face of sometimes outrageous odds.

And she practiced her politics the way she lived her life – strongly advocating her positions, always listening to the other person, always striving for win-win pragmatic solutions, and conducting herself always with her quiet smile and her often boisterous humor.

In Europe I learned an unusual salutation, not often or lightly given. It fits so well tonight. Farewell, dear friend, RESPECT.