Today, Ellen Pence won her struggle with cancer. She soared above it. She did not let it take her soul, love, joy, beauty, or power. She is now at peace. Her pain is gone. Her happiness is complete and she has finished the race with glory. She was a mentor and friend to me and many others. She taught me over 25 years ago to try to see the world as it should be but to never ignore how it really is. She lived life with so much passion, determination, and humor. She, more than most people I have ever known, changed the world. The world is a different place because Ellen Pence invested her life in helping others. Her work resulted in saving thousands of lives and helped break the cycle of violence for millions of people who never even heard the name “Ellen Pence”. And hundreds of communities, systems, agencies, and people altered the course of their work and lives because of Ellen. I am one of those many
I loved Ellen Pence. I always will. She was beautiful inside and out. She was brilliant. She was tireless. She was the living embodiment of the word “advocate”.
There was never a time I saw her that she did not challenge me and encourage me all at the same time. Last year, I had the chance to videotape with her in St. Paul for five hours. I will cherish those hours for the rest of my life. Battling her illness, she talked for hours and shared her views, beliefs, and lessons learned throughout her life. At the end of the interview, I got to ask her two more questions. First, I asked her what she thought mattered the most in her work over the years…what had the most impact on victims and their children. She did not hesitate. She said “support groups.” Ellen said the most powerful impact she ever had was running support groups and helping survivors learn from each other and support each other. Then, I asked her if she had her life to do over again what she would do differently in her work. She said that if she could do it over again she would have invested in things that took longer to do. She said it was a mistake to put all her eggs in the criminal justice system basket as far as systems and culture change. But Ellen was being humble. Her mistakes in life whatever they might have been did not in any way reduce her power or impact. She was a giant of social change.
Of all the things I loved about Ellen, her sense of humor was near the top of the list. She had an ability to use humor without demeaning others. She could use sarcasm without putting people down. And she could get anyone doing bad work with victims to laugh at themselves one minute and then change their behavior the next minute. She could zero in on the problems in leaders and agencies and be boldly critical and insightful and they would still love her, respect her, and want to make the changes she was advocating for with them.
Ellen’s legacy will live on through the lives of family members, friends, advocates, colleagues, and thousands of others who she touched directly and indirectly. We will never forget her, we will always revere her, and we will continue to be her voice in a world still so desperately in need of Ellen’s relentless vision.