As soon as the Network for Public Education conference ended, four of us got into a car and set off on a trip from Raleigh to Chapel Hill to see Vivian Connell.

 

Bertis Downs rented a car, and brought me, Colleen Wood, and Phyllis Bush to the Connell home. Bertis has known Vivian for 30 years.

 

I first met Vivian in 2014, when I spoke at a meeting of state leaders and took the opportunity to rake the legislature over the coals for its mean spirited and short-sighted attacks on the teaching profession and public schools. In the same meeting, Vivian was on a panel of teachers who told the 1,000+ assembled leaders why they left teaching; most left because the salary was too meager to live on. Vivian left to go to  law school. She wanted to be a social justice lawyer.

 

A few months later in 2014, Vivian came to the first meeting of the Network for Public Education in Austin, where Colleen and Phyllis met her. We were all smitten with her. She is intelligent, passionate, informed, and beautiful, inside and out.

 

Later we learned that she had been diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). There is no cure as yet. We were shocked and devastated.

 

Vivian began writing a blog about what was happening to her and her determination to live life to the fullest. She raised money to take a group of 25 students to the Holocaust Museum in DC. She traveled with her children. She methodically set goals and met them. She ticked off the items on her bucket list.

 

Vivian’s blog is called FinALS: My Closing Arguments. I have never known anyone who faced death with such courage and grace. I posted her first post here. I called it “Vivian Connell: Face of a Hero.” The post, I learned today, helped raise money for the trip to the Holicaust Museum.

 

Today, we went to Vivian’s house. We met her husband and her two beautiful children. Vivian was in a wheelchair with an attendant. She is paralyzed and can’t speak. But she has an amazing device attached to her wheelchair that is a screen. She is able to use her eye gaze to type messages, which is then spoken. She is as sharp and alert as ever, but immobile. We brought a gift for her: an autographed first edition of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a book she loves. Phyllis found it on a rare book site and gave it to her as a gift from NPE. Vivian was very moved and held back tears.

 

I talked with her husband Paul (who adores her) and the conversation turned to what was happening in the state. I said something about the appointment of Margaret Spellings as president of UNC, and within two minutes, the machine pronounced a two-word epithet that is unprintable on this PG-rated blog. She has lost her voice, but not her sense of humor.

 

We left, with many hugs and kisses.

 

I want you to know this remarkable woman. Please read the last post she wrote, with the help of a friend, and be sure you watch the video, where she tells the story of what happened after she was diagnosed with ALS.

 

We left feeling blessed to know Vivian Connell. If you watch the video in her post, you will get to know her too. She is an inspiration, a testament to the human spirit.