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Judith Nan Lidovitch Emerson ’73

March 6, 2020, in Portland, Oregon, of a myeloid sarcoma.

Born in Syracuse, New York, Judy grew up in Federal Way, Washington, and was, according to her mother, “an amiable child.”

In high school, Judy organized and led a sizable “Save Our Schools” march after a local levy failed. She tutored minority students in math in South Seattle, headed the Student Handbook committee, and was senior class secretary on the student council. She earned the Phi Beta Kappa award and the Lions Club Scholarship and graduated third among 600 graduates, to her relief because the first two had to give speeches. In the summer, she picked blueberries to save money for college.

At Reed, Judy began making new friends, including her future husband, Jim, whom she married in 1971. In addition to carrying a considerable academic load, she was a teaching assistant and librarian in the physics library during her junior and senior years. Fencing was her sport; what she lacked in height she made up for in lightning-fast movement. Advised by Prof. Jean Delord [physics 1950–88], she wrote her thesis, “Is Physics a Scientific Enterprise?” It was a controversial topic, detailing examples of social, political, and habitual ways of thinking which affected not only the funding, publication, reception, and application of physics discoveries, but also the nature of the science itself in the preconceptions and research decisions of the scientists. Her defense drew a large crowd from several departments of the college.

Before marrying, Judy and Jim had agreed that he would work to pay for her to finish Reed, and then she would work while he finished at the University of Oregon School of Architecture, which did not yet have a Portland branch. They moved to Springfield, where she worked for three years as a medical clerk in the state welfare office. Judy said this was one of the most satisfying times in her life, surrounded by caring and hardworking coworkers with a critical mission. Her contacts with clients and doctors deeply informed her understanding of the challenges faced by people without adequate money.

She and Jim moved back to Portland, and both got jobs in Oregon’s early high-tech sector. Judy worked at Electro-Scientific Industries programming computer-driven robotic manufacturing tools, testing prototypes, and troubleshooting problems. She excelled at her work and enjoyed the intellectual challenge of it, yet found the constant time pressure exhausting. When the couple were approved for an adoption in 1978, she quit her job, asking, “Why should I wear myself down to the nub to earn money, just to pay someone else to raise my child?”

They sponsored a Vietnamese refugee family, learning much and making lifelong friends, adopted a second child, and purchased six acres of cut-over woods, invasive blackberries, and marshland in northwest Multnomah County. The place looked unpromising, but was affordable and had three streams, wildlife, garden and orchard space, and quietness. They designed their house, and Judy enjoyed the rest of her life there.

Doing all the chores of motherhood, Judy also planned, researched, and planted 95 heirloom varieties of apple trees, which she grafted onto semidwarf rootstock. They became a steady source of fruit and homemade cider and were also the source of scionwood for her new venture, a small nursery specializing in rare apples and unusual landscape plants.

When she turned 50, Judy began making pottery. After taking courses at community college, she set up a studio at home and spent many hours at the wheel, mixing glazes, and monitoring the kiln. Using her science background, she became adept at compounding glazes of many colors; “Judith’s Opal” became a standard at the college.

Her favorite mode of travel was “shunpiking,” taking little-used rural roads, or minor streets in cities, to discover the unexpected, the underappreciated, the uncrowded, and often the unpaved parts of our world.

Judith endured years of suffering and treatments after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2001. Classical and folk music, flowers, cats, Laurel and Hardy comedies, and Chinese food helped sustain her. In 2017, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. The resulting hospitalizations and chemotherapy treatments sapped her of energy, comfort, and health, but never of hope. The sarcoma was the final blow, taking her within a few days. Judy is survived by her husband, Jim, her sons, David and Benjamin, and her sisters, Cheryl and Miriam.

Appeared in Reed magazine: September 2020

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