As Nancy Koppelman lay in her hospital bed at Cottage recovering from chemotherapy, she played me a message from our former president, Barack Obama. With a catch in his voice, he shared how sorry he was to hear that she was ill — that she probably had all the love she needed, but if he could do anything, or if she needed to talk, he was available. I was gobsmacked by the message, but Nancy just gleamed and winked as if to say, “Oh, that’s so Barry.” Not a moment later, the oncologist walked in, and she turned her beaming smile toward him. When he asked her how it was going, she replied, “What’s not to love about room service and a great view?” And immediately I could see why he made special visits to Nancy’s room. Her gratitude for life itself was contagious.
Nancy Walker Koppelman, born June 4, 1954, in Anaheim, California, to Velma Koontz Walker and Ross Walker, died peacefully at home on May 26, 2017. She is survived by her husband, Larry, her heart’s purest love; daughter Renée; her brother, James Walker; nephew Tru Phillips; rescue dogs Jasper and Thea; and literally hundreds who claim her as their best friend.
Nancy was known for her relentless quest for social justice and her persuasive progressive vision. Her passion for social equality began when she was a college student working in the women’s health-care movement. In the early 1970s, not long after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade abortion ruling, she helped create the feminist health-care clinic, many of which distributed speculums and encouraged women to examine their cervix. In 2007, Koppelman became a member of the Democratic National Committee. She served on President Obama’s national finance and election committee from the very beginning and throughout his time in office.
Over the past 10 years, the Koppelmans hosted events for authors, scientists, five Nobel Peace Prize winners, world leaders, and politicians, including President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Nancy was also an ambassador for UCSB Arts & Lectures; was a key member of the Direct Relief board; cofounded the Global Neighborhood Fund, which helps fund social justice in Liberia; and served on the advisory boards of the Aspen Brain Forum, the Aspen Institute, and One Heart World-Wide.
On a personal level, Nancy Koppelman was the “holy hostess.” Whether she was entertaining or endorsing presidents or advising a friend of her beloved daughter, Renée, Nancy brought out the light and the best in everyone. No one had better or more clever repartee than Nancy, and she was as good at going low as she was at going high. If you asked her, “How are you?” she would reply, “I’m adorable.” She had an incomparable gift for mirth and was known for her exceptionally whimsical gift-giving.
The minute you were within 10 feet of Nancy’s orbit, you felt a transformative glow that polished everything inside of you. Her lyrical voice was always narrating just above reality, somewhere between what’s outrageous and magical and what’s absolutely essential to affirm in each person she met. She gave a regal type of permission and command for us all to shine, and yet she never became saccharine or too solemn about anything. Nancy would look through one of her hundreds of pairs of legendary eyeglasses and speculate on life with a twinkle of playfulness and a brilliant, sassy wit. In the last month, as she lay on her couch unable to move, people kept streaming in to feel her voluminous love and to hang on her every sage word. She said ironically, “Wow, I can’t believe I didn’t think of this earlier! What a love fest!”
Jim Selberg noted about Nancy that she was the definition of feminine power and grace. She was larger than life and completely disarming in her warmth and softness. She was undaunted by any naysayers, and she was an intellectual force and stalwart for countless liberation issues worldwide. Nancy did not ever fail to speak truth to power but did so in a heart-centered way (or in snarky text cartoons). What I will miss most about Nancy is the timeless heaven of her hugs. When Nancy wrapped you in her arms, all became still, fulfilled, and possible.
In the last months of a lifetime of fearless inner and outer explorations, Nancy taught her tribe how to love without pretense or constraint. In her own words: “To be continued …”