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Sending Taylor our love and appreciation

As many of you know, Taylor Willingham is not doing so well.  Taylor, who is a real shining star in our community, was diagnosed with kidney cancer this past fall. Despite multiples surgeries and various treatments, her recovery is not going well at this point.

Though she’s not up for too many phone calls and visitors, she LOVES getting and reading email messages.  Her good friend Diane Miller tells me she prints them out and re-reads them often.  You can email Taylor directly at taylor@austin-pacific.com, but I want to encourage NCDDers to add a comment to this post with a brief message to Taylor.  I’ll make sure she sees your comments.

I received this sobering message from Taylor today:

My health is deteriorating faster than I expected, but I am fighting to keep my head above water. My goal is to live to see the wildflowers this spring, but this cancer is not going to make it easy on me!

You may certainly let anyone in our network know about my situation. Renal cell carcinoma is not treatable. It can’t be cured. I can only strive to live a few more weeks as pain free as possible. Prayer seems to be a pretty good antidote (in between the morphine and methadone!).

So many things I wanted to do that I will have to leave for others who follow behind. But that is the cycle of life.

If you’ve attended an NCDD conference you probably know Taylor.  She’s a firecracker (that’s the best word I know for Taylor), with boundless energy and enthusiasm for public dialogue work.  You certainly know Taylor if you’re involved with National Issues Forums, as Taylor is an absolute star in the NIF network, having (among other things) co-founded and directed Texas Forums, an initiative of the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum.

Taylor has been a wonderfully active member of NCDD, and served as the Secretary of our Board of Directors for the past couple of years.  She was instrumental in planning the 2008 NCDD conference in Austin (she lives near Austin in Salado, TX), and she was a key member of the planning team for the Austin regional NCDD workshop in October 2010 until she learned of her cancer and needed to pull back on some of her many commitments. She also ran a National Issues Forum event for conference participants and locals on the final day of the 2004 NCDD conference in Denver, Colorado.

Even with stage 4 kidney cancer, Taylor is more productive than most of us!  An email from Patty Dineen on the 17th included this update:

Meanwhile, Taylor continues pretty much full speed ahead, working online, teaching her online university course (via computer in her hospital room), to the point that her family and hospital staff conspired to put a time limit on her “connected” activities so she will rest.  She has the support and presence of her husband Terry, her parents, and other family and friends there with her, and her doctors have put together a team to oversee her treatments and care.  I’m not sure who the doctors believe to be leading the team, but I’m pretty sure that it is really Taylor.

If you know Taylor, please take a minute to add a brief note of appreciation and encouragement as a comment below.  I know she’d love to hear from a lot of NCDDers!

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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  1. Rebecca Townsend says:

    As a newbie to NCDD, I was humbled by your willingness to share advice and stories with me at the No Better Time conference. Thank you. May all the wildflowers bloom for you.

  2. Avril Orloff says:

    Dear Taylor,
    We only met at the NCDD 2008 conference in Austin, but your name comes up over and over again in notices of Amazing People Doing Amazing Things, so I feel like I know you better than I do. I was so sad to learn of your illness, and add my warmest thoughts and most fervent prayers to the wall of support that already surrounds you. May the love and gratitude you inspire in so many shine its full healing power back on you!
    Peace & light,
    Avril

  3. Taylor, back in 2002 or 2003, you were one of many great trainers who taught 70 Kansas Citians how to do deliberation. When we wanted additional training, we agreed that you were the best fit for us. There was something about your energy, curiosity and boundless enthusiasm that pulled us to you. Since then, I have had opportunities to value your wisdom and treasure your support. I have seen you give hours and hours to the cause of engaging the public, and do it so very skillfully. You are an inspiration, Taylor, and you are in my thoughts.

  4. Douglas Challenger says:

    Though our interactions at Kettering Foundation events and PPIs over the years have been few, they were always memorable and I never left one of those without learning something from you. You have always been one of the great ambassadors for deliberative democracy and one of its leading practitioners. I send my prayers for peace and joy and healing. And I wish another springtime for you, my friend and colleague from afar.

  5. Taylor, I don't believe we've every spoken but I've been at the NCDD conferences and recall your warm smile and wonderful energy! Thank you for the wonderful contribution you have made to NCDD, to the field of deliberative democracy, and to the many lives you have touched. I am sending you my heartfelt wishes for peace, healing and joy and the blessing of experiencing the miracle of spring.

  6. Suzanne Hershey says:

    Taylor,

    I found out late that you were facing this new big challenge and transition. My immediate thought was what a shining star you are, and I see that is a prevailing image for many many who think of you. When we worked on the education dialogues project, I marveled at how relaxed you were with hundreds of people showing up, you and all of us putting trust in the power of people to come together for good, but you creating the structure and framing the conversation so that it could be authentic and meaningful and lead to action. I've always admired how you were able to engage so many people with your warmth, your idealism, and your ability to create real connections with and among a quite diverse group of people. Sending you love and thoughts of those wildflowers – Suzanne

  7. Nancy robb says:

    On Mar 4, 2011, at 10:20 PM, Nancy Robb wrote:

    One reason Lady Bird Johnson was so intent on landscaping the by-ways of the the US interstate system was (and still is) the marvelous legacy of wildflowers along the fields and meadows of Texas this time of year. In less than a month, the bluebonnets will be intense. Taylor, I hope you are able to see not only this year's wildflowers, but those in future years.

    We've had some wild weather recently in Seattle, and some spectacular rainbows after the squalls.

    Nancy Robb

  8. Anne Selcer posted this on the old (thataway.org) blog:

    Taylor – I always remember the Stone Soup story that you read at our training class. The stone was the catalyst for the community and that community lived on even as the stone was moved to the next stop on its journey.

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