September 15, 2017 at 7:53 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Remembering Edith Windsor: Stories of meeting the LGBT pioneer
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Edie Windsor served as one of the Grand Marshals of the 2017 Capital Pride parade. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Edith Windsor, a hero of the marriage equality movement who died this week at age 88, not only achieved a significant victory at the Supreme Court, but inspired many in the LGBT community.

The Washington Blade obtained numerous tributes to Windsor from individuals who had memorable exchanges with her — before and after she took down the 1996 anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act.

Here are the stories from these individuals:

“I finally met Edie this year at Capital Pride’s brunch. For years I had known that my grandfather worked his entire career at IBM and worked on the landmark COBOL compiler that took up the size of an entire city block. I always wondered if he and Edie knew each other, being that they were the same age at the same company in the same city with the same job. Meeting Edie finally brought closure to that mystery. Not only did she know him, she was his boss! Only a few months later Edie passed, but it felt like divine justice and I’m very grateful for our meeting. I’ll always remember these words she told me. I asked if it was hard living during the mid-20th century and she said, ‘No, it wasn’t hard because I was in love.’ That’s just the kind of person she was, celebrating every moment of life with pride.”

— Peter Fox, 23, in Wayne, N.J. 

“It was 2007. I had been working on marriage equality since the late 90s. We were looking for new ways to talk about the issue. Marriage Equality NY organized a town hall to discuss the upcoming, the state of our NYS Senate and how to move forward. I had participated in probably hundreds of these types of events over the years. But, this night, two new people attended. In walks a woman pushing another woman in a wheelchair. She’s feisty, you could tell. This tiny elderly blonde lady, dressed very well, came up to me and said – I need a spot in the front for my wife’s wheelchair, we can’t sit in the back. I, of course, said – come on up! Ha ha ha, I didn’t know then that I had just met the woman that would change my life – Edie Windsor!

We began the town hall with various discussions, information, etc. We were hoping for a vote ‘soon.’ Edie raised her hand and I handed her the microphone – I’m 77 years old! I cannot wait any longer! What do we have to do?

From then on, Edie and Thea were at every rally, speech, public event they could possibly attend given Thea’s condition. They were married in Canada and not respected in the USA. Edie was determined.

We all are familiar with the story after that. Thea passed away, Edie was charged well over $300,000 in tax against Thea’s estate. And she sued. The rest is, as we say, history.”

— Catherine Marino-Thomas, 57, Queens, N.Y.

“Of the countless reasons I admired and adored Edie Windsor, I loved her most for constantly reminding us all that one person can truly change everything. She believed that and lived it in a way that went well beyond the historic Supreme Court case that bears her name. I remember how she was the very first person to sign a ‘People’s Brief’ in support of the Obergefell case when marriage equality returned to the Supreme Court in 2015. With her help, the brief eventually garnered more than 200,000 signatures. She tirelessly turned out support for political candidates who pledged to advance equality. And she weighed in with her opinion on issues big and small, knowing that one person could tip the scales. The last time we heard from her was in May, when HRC asked our members to help choose a design for a new resistance campaign poster. Edie responded to a colleague with her preferences, and ended her email by adding, ‘If there’s a tie, please choose for me.’ That was Edie — never passing up an opportunity to make her voice count.”

Chad Griffin, president, Human Rights Campaign

“We lost a hero, a fearless warrior and I lost a friend. If she liked you, she loved you, and the feeling was mutual. I was overwhelmed when she invited me to the Passover Seder she and Robbie Kaplan’s family hosted two nights before her day in the Supreme Court. Passover is a dramatic story of freedom, and we were on the verge of her win that gave my family and friends freedom to marry the person they love.

As we entered the room, Edie, always the gracious host, introduced me to a wide array of people. I barely knew anyone other than recognizing faces I’d seen at marriage equality events, and Edie had me sit right next to her. Robbie and her wife Rachel ran the seder, and asked everyone to share how they came to be there. The time line of civil rights history in the making being was being told around that table from the likes of Robbie Kaplan and Mary Bonauto, to the attorneys assisting on Windsor v U.S. Spirits were high, and Edie’s smile lit up the room.

We were often more concerned than necessary that she get some rest, and that night was no exception. She was in charge, she did it her way. The night came to an end. The next day she did relax with friends, and a few of us met up with her for drinks that afternoon. And the following day history was made.”

— RoseAnn Rosenfeld Hermann, 61, Inwood, N.Y.

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Edith Windsor outside the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

“Our hearts are broken but we were so blessed to have had Edie in our lives.The honor is truly ours to cherish for the rest of our days. Edie was one of kind. A woman with a level of energy well beyond her years. She was a dynamo.

We first meet Edie at a Marriage Equality NY meeting. She sat down next to us and leaned over and said ‘How can I get to Canada to get married? My partner is very ill and we have to get married the sooner the better.’

We hooked her up to Brendan Fay and the Civil Marriage Trail to help arrange her marriage to her then longtime love of 40 years, Thea. As the saying goes the rest is history.

History it did make. She changed it for us and so many others in the LGBT community. She will be remembered and revered for generations to come. We love you and will miss you.”

— Yonkers City Council member Michael Sabatino, 67, and Robert Voorheis, 62, both of Yonkers, N.Y.

“Edie cared deeply about young people. After she and Robbie learned that they had won, one of the first things Edie said was that she hoped it would be the end of stigma and suicide. She wanted every young person to be able to dream of falling in love and creating a future. Just as much as she wanted to win marriage equality, she wanted to create hope.”

Olivia Alair Dalton, senior vice president of communications and marketing for the Human Rights Campaign

“Like many LGBTQ Americans — especially those of us who worked in the marriage equality world — Edie had been a hero of mine for a long time. But over the last couple of years, through dinners, cocktail conversations, parade marches, and Pride celebrations, she became not just a hero, but a friend.

Edie may have been small in stature, but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who lived life larger or more fully. From her megawatt smile and boundless joie de vivre to her endlessly caring heart and indomitable spirit, Edie was a force of nature. Not only did this DOMA-slaying trailblazer bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice, she truly touched the life of each and every person she met. Whether you were famous or anonymous, the first or hundred-and-first person she greeted that day, someone she’d known for decades or someone she was meeting for the first time, Edie made you feel seen, made you feel special, made you feel loved. I am so incredibly blessed to have known her.

The news of Edie’s death sent me into shock and grief, as I know it did for so many other members of the LGBTQ family that she loved so much. It’s hard to believe that the light of her beautiful life has gone out. But Edie fought for love, and that love lives on. It’s now up to us to carry her light.”

— John Becker, 32, gay D.C. activist

A public memorial will be held Friday, Sept. 15 at 12:30 p.m. To accommodate a larger group of attendees, the venue has been changed to Temple Emanu-El on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

In lieu of flowers, Windsor had requested that any donations in her memory be made to the NYC LGBT Center, Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, the Hetrick-Martin Institute, and Services & Advocacy for LGBT Elders, or SAGE.

Edith Windsor at the LGBT 50th anniversary in Philadelphia. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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