Life Story for
2/10/30 ~ 1/31/17
To know Lucy was to go through an historical adventure of a time period that no longer exists.
She was born to a large sprawling Italian family living in Williamsbridge Brooklyn. Her grandparents had immigrated from Italy early in the century raising their large family by running a deli that became a major part of Lucy’s childhood.
Lucy early childhood was taken up with the difficulties she experienced at three when a misdiagnosed mastoiditis (ear infection) developed into a major infection and without antibiotics, unavailable until the 50’s) settled in her left hip as an osteomyelitis. After surgery and a direct transfusion to her father, (no blood banking until later), Lucy was placed in a body cast which was to remain on for a year. At that time visiting was strictly regulated and she would be left alone in the hospital when they would cut the cast off to replace it with what she remembered as “large garden size clippers that she was afraid would cut her in two” Following that year she was placed in a “steel and leather brace” and special shoes. All her life Lucy dreamed of “having patent leather shoes and running barefoot through the grass” but it was never to be as she always required special shoes.
Her grandfather was very special to her and during her childhood. Early in the morning he would pick her with his horse Charlie who pulled his wagon and they would ride over the bridge to the Washington Markets to pick up fruits and vegetables. Her grandfather was a very social and generous man and Lucy learned from him early on how to make friends and befriend people.
As she grew Lucy’s interest turned more and more to science and this became her lifelong passion. She studied at Hunter College and then worked in places like Stein Davies on the uses of starches. Each morning they would have to eat different puddings something she loved.
Lucy was unequivocal about what she felt and wanted moving with ease into places most women of her time feared. When she met Grace in 1951, her first partner, she thought it was “a unique experience” and she and Grace went to Italy in 1957 both to study medicine at Bologna University combining studying with romping through Europe having a wonderful time. Lucy never seemed to be aware of oppression or danger except for one time when an American friend was refused service in Germany because he was Jewish.
In 1962 Lucy and Grace separated but continued to work together and Lucy who had not finished medical school unable to tolerate the politics that were embedded in medicine opted for biophysics and began working at French Hospital in the incipient but burgeoning field of Nuclear Medicine. As time went on she supervised the nuclear medicine labs at French and Polyclinic Hospitals.
Around the same time having brought home an English Pointer pup from Italy she bought a house surrounded by woods and nature an hour from the city. Again because women could not get mortgages or credit without a man cosigning she managed to find the house owned by the holder of an assumable mortgage that could not be challenged. She also took a second job in hematology at Peekskill Community Hospital, a wood frame building at that time.
Lucy was a rock at work with a wicked sense of humor and a photographic memory around which the staff and many patients took solace. When I met her in 1967, introduced by my mother who worked at French, she was already established. Doctors would sidle into her lab under some pretext and then ask the medical question they came for. Patients would turn to her for help in negotiating problems. One day after our whirlwind courtship while she was out buying a paper a voice behind her from a staff member she never really knew said quietly, “ I finally came out”. Lucy turned and said, “that’s nice” and the woman disappeared.
Lucy experienced an epiphany one day after we met that the second time around was not “a unique experience”. Although I was younger by a decade I was very much a product of the gay underground world at that time and extremely involved in political movements. In her inimitable way although she was never interested in protests she embraced the reality of who we were and came along for the ride supporting me all the way.
In 1971, after the Stonewall Riots brought gay life into the foreground I joined a fledgling group organizing a peer counseling service for LGB people who needed someone like them to talk to. We were a riotous bunch and one day Lucy who was tired of waiting for me marched in and banged her cane on the floor announcing she would be running the process. She became Identity House’s first Executive Director after it reorganized.
Those were exciting days. We were working, I was a case worker, raising dogs and showing one (6 English Pointers) and building an organization that is still doing its work. Lucy’s love of nature, science, scholarship and solitude were a perfect counterpoint to my politics. We were also matched in stubbornness and argument but always managed to patch things up. The wonderful friends Lucy and I met then are still our community today.
As time went on and Lucy struggled with the health problems wrought from her childhood she sought a more spiritual base and after a 30 year absence went back to the Catholic church in 1984. In her own unique way and seeking an accepting community, she walked into a Franciscan Church, one of the many churches she had looked at, and seeing a group of young priests said “I want to talk to a gay priest” Six heads turned around and one said, “pick one”. Lucy had found a home.
In her later years we did a lot of traveling. But most of all, she loved to
sit in front of our building under the tree, whose garden planter she was always tending, talking to neighbors and passersby with Maggie our black lab. One neighbor called her, “the mayor of 17th Street”.
A friend asked her recently what the secret was to our long relationship and she answered “independence, we were both independent”. I would have said, “We adored each other” and so we did for 50 years.