In Praise of Martha Lavey

I did not know Martha Lavey, who died this afternoon. She was a living legend, a towering figure who made Chicago better, made us more relevant to the world, and contributed to the advance of American art in ways that people who are were close to her will tell over the coming days.

But I have a Martha Lavey story.

I was on the steering committee for On The Table, an initiative of the Chicago Community Trust, a program designed to elevate civic conversation, foster new relationships and inspire action.

I showed up at a meeting at The Trust for the committee— a typical affair, with 30-40 people in a board room talking about stuff.

And there was Martha Lavey. I stopped short. I was flummoxed to see her. There are people like this for all of us— untouchables who represent a level of import that makes us quake or look away or go shy.

So we started the meeting. People ate bagels and poured coffee and talked about stuff.

And Martha Lavey pulls out some nail polish from her purse.

She starts painting her nails. She chimes in on some topics, saying smarter things than everyone else, making us think, all the while casually looking down, painting her nails.

And I’m like, “Martha Lavey you are a fucking boss and I love you so much thank you Martha Lavey”.

I did not tell her that; I said it to myself.

Martha Lavey didn’t need me to tell her I loved her, but right now I raise that up and make it plain to you.

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