Karen Sampson Hoffman

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An obit for a friend

Posted on August 7, 2013 at 1:20 PM

Pamela Mercer

I have written obituaries before, and I have written them for people who were friends and acquaintances. But this obituary for a friend is different.

Pamela deserves an obit. We all do, but those of us who pledge to seek the truth and report it deserve this one last time for our names to appear in print, for this one time to have our stories told. Pamela was always very guarded with her story, she shared some of it with me and the rest was just a sly smiled that always seemed to say, “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.” I’m not even sure how old she is, though the earliest published story I can find by her is from 1993, making her about mid-40s.

Pamela had a way of putting words on paper that took you to the news – interviews with drug lords, survivors of massacres, ordinary people quietly living extraordinary lives. She was compassionate to the one who was oppressed – whether they were the marginalized of Florida, the family trying to survive in a land ruled by narco-terrorists or the caller on the telephone whose child is affected by ADHD and the school won’t help her. She also had a sharp tongue and typed her thoughts too quickly, not always thinking through what the results might be (I know this personally, as I paid a price for some of her actions at work). She could be loving, and she could be unforgiving.

She believed whole-heartedly in the mission of CHADD, though she could not find happiness at the National Resource Center on ADHD. It hurt her to walk away from her work in helping people affected by ADHD but it was something she needed to do; I know she was happy at her new position for many months before her cancer returned.

She has three sisters, I believe, along with her mother and several nieces and nephews. Some of her sisters live here in the States, while her mother lives at the family home in Colombia. Again with that sly look, she said her father had been some type of diplomat from the United States, which made her a U.S. citizen. She was brought to Florida for dangerous open heart surgeries as a child – surgeries that in the high elevation of Colombia would have killed her. I remember when CHADD’s conference was at Disney a few years ago. She was so happy because, for her, that was as close as she could get to going home because she had spent so much time there a child during that period of surgeries and recovery. It was the happiest I had ever seen her.

As a child she was educated in Europe and moved with her parents in diplomatic circles. She lost her father at some point in young adulthood. She attended Tufts University where she earned a degree in English and Political Science. Starting in Latin America and her Colombian home, she used that degree to expose drug violence, political corruption, human rights concerns and poverty. She was the voice for the voiceless.

Pamela freelanced for The New York Times and the Associated Press. She wrote on the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald and later for the Orlando Sentinel. In Miami she covered minority and Hispanic affairs, Spanish-speaking peoples and business and community. In Orlando she covered education and community. Again, she sought to be the voice for those who were not heard in Florida.

She came up to Washington, DC, to better herself and her career. She campaigned for President Obama because she believed he would help to improve people’s lives. She believed it was her responsibility to help improve people’s lives.

When we first met, we didn’t always get along. I remember storming out of one meeting when we had clashed about education and tradition. But I was married only five months I experienced health issues that, thankfully, were fully resolved. As I explained to my colleagues what I was going through, she said something that to my own reporter’s ear meant that she knew a lot more than she let on.

From that day forward, Pamela was my friend. She always signed her personal emails to me “Love you” and she sent email to my cat, Luca, in her persona of a lioness. She offered me strength when I was weak and support when I was afraid. She shared information with me and guidance. She didn’t always agree with my decisions but she stood by them. She told me more about her health than she shared with anyone else but she never told me the complete story. There was more wrong than a Stage II or III diagnosis or childhood open heart surgery. I knew something was seriously wrong when she said she didn’t expect that it would be cancer that would kill her.

Pamela last emailed me two months ago and I dragged my feet in replying to her and then wondered why she didn’t reply to me. I thought she was ticked that I had taken so long to reply and that she was giving me a dose of my own medicine. But in her last email she wrote that she had been ill. She didn’t tell me it was a return of the cancer. I wish she had. Our Editor in Heaven, I wish she had!

Pamela did not have a personal faith in God, but she respected mine. She knew I prayed for her and was gracious about that. When she would shout “JESUS CHRIST!” out of frustration at the computer or some new policy, I took to warning her that is she kept calling out for Jesus, he would come into her life.

In my personal theology, God is the Great Editor and we are all the writers of the story of our own lives. My hope and prayer now is that the Editor has called her into his office and she is the latest member of the Great Newsroom among the Communion of Saints. That in her new role, where ever and however it may be, that she continues to be a voice for the voiceless.

A selection of Pamela’s work:

Letting Pamela have the last word:

Hello, everyone,

Just wanted to say a huge good-bye before I officially turn into a pumpkin….. thank you all for the great send-off yesterday! I will miss being part of this wonderful project that is CHADD. The human capital is by far the most important thing we have to offer. It was gratifying and humbling to reach out to so many people in my daily dealings with the public as an NRC specialist. As many of you know who also deal with the public on a daily basis, there is an enormous amount of suffering, need and lack of information out there by people who live with ADHD. Thank God we are here. May CHADD remain and grow to reach everyone and give the best of its people.

I won’t miss my commute, although thanks to my trials and tribulations I am now acquainted with the excellent blog unsuckdcmetro.blogspot.com – which I highly recommend. The saxophonist who plays there is one of the worst buskers I have ever heard, but the coffee served by the ladies at the New Carrolton Metro station is absolutely decent and fresh!

I will miss many of you, especially my colleagues at the NRC, with whom I shared so many laughs and interesting discussions. I am SURE they will miss my bad jokes, “permissions to rant” and the animal pictures in our weekly phones timetable. (Wishing there were a wink/sarcasm emoticon here).

PS: I won’t miss the office coffee either – Seattle’s Best is brewing as I write (black pot) – aquamarine bag with more is in the fridge. Enjoy!


The Lioness

Categories: What are Words for?

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