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National NOW Times >> Spring 2004 >> Article

Extraordinary Gift Elevates, Expands NOW's Work in Crucial Election Year

Longtime member quietly leaves NOW the largest bequest in its 38-year history

by Michele Keller, Internet Communications Manager

Midway through the afternoon on March 8, Liz Gilchrist, NOW's Director of Major Gifts and Planned Giving, received an unexpected summons to the front desk of the NOW Action Center in Washington, D.C., to pick up a FedEx package.

Gilchrist walked up to the front desk, opened the envelope, and was astonished to find a handwritten personal check, for an amount that represented the largest gift the National Organization for Women has ever received in its 38-year history.

"I think my heart stopped when I opened it," Gilchrist said. Stunned by the enormity of the unexpected bequest, which will eventually reach more than one and a half million dollars, she made a beeline for the office of NOW President Kim Gandy to share the news.

Together they and others absorbed the details: Judith Lee Stronach, a human rights and social justice activist from Berkeley, Calif., had been a NOW member and regular contributor since 1978. Before she passed away on Nov. 29, 2002, she made plans to leave a portion of her estate to NOW’s work for women and girls.

No one who knew Judith Stronach would be surprised at her generosity to NOW and the other peace, social justice, environmental and arts organizations she supported both in her lifetime and through her estate. A writer, poet, journalist and educator, Stronach gave her time, energy and financial resources unstintingly to those causes she cared most deeply about, which ranged from ending homelessness in her own community to advocacy for human rights in troubled areas around the globe.

Her passionate commitment to non-violence led her to service on the board of Amnesty International, work as an interpreter for the Guatemalan Office of Human Rights, and support of the Center for Justice and Accountability for victims of torture, among others. She was active in the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and wrote numerous articles and essays on peace and reconciliation, both domestically and internationally. The Judith Stronach Fund for Non-Violence is part of her continuing legacy.

Stronach was also a scholar who loved art and literature, clearly believing that the written word could help change people's lives and make the world a better place. She founded the Judith Stronach Prize for Poetry and Prose for re-entering women students at the University of California at Berkeley, and sponsored the V-World Poetry Contest, an international competition that is part of Eve Ensler's V-Day campaign to end violence around the world. She taught children about poetry and environmental and social justice in schools and at the Berkeley Friends Meeting.

Stronach's life and work touched so many people around the globe, including all of us at the NOW Action Center. Her incredible generosity moved many staff members to tears of sheer joy when they learned of her bequest and realized how important it would be to NOW's work this election year and in the future.

"We're so grateful for her foresight and her planning for the future of the women's movement," said Gandy. "She could not have known that we would be at such an important place in our history." NOW hopes to honor Judith Stronach and her legacy with a special presentation to her husband, Dr. Raymond Lifchez, a professor of architecture at UC Berkeley.

Please contact Liz Gilchrist at the NOW Action Center to discuss how you too can be a feminist visionary like Judith Stronach by making a bequest or other planned gift to NOW or the NOW Foundation. Liz can be reached by phone at 202-628-8669, ext. 112, or by email at foundation@now.org. You can also write to Liz at NOW, 733 15th Street, NW, 2nd floor, Washington, D.C., 20005.

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