Chance Encounters

It might not have been Christmas when Judy Harlan walked into the newspaper office, but it felt like it.

I had never met her.

“Judge Cooke is being honored by the Monticello Masons and you are going to publish a tribute section to him. I’ll contact the people who need to write for it, and sell the ads. The price for a quarter page will be …”

She was a gift.

She had been Judge Cooke’s Executive Secretary and campaign manager who guided a Monticello lawyer to become the Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals of New York State.

Judy walked into our storefront at 8 Main Street in the winter of 1995. The paper had just lost its long-time editor and my then-husband, Glenn Pontier, in a dispute with the newspaper’s ownership, and other personal reasons. There was something in my own story that intersected with her own. And it spurred her to action.

The ad rate that she named was about four times more than our open rate at the time, but she was adamant. She went to work.

What emerged was a lovely 12-page tribute section that honored a man who was so deserving to be honored. Even though I had not met him, I wrote the introduction touched by the stories that people had written. And when I met Lawrence Cooke at that Monticello Masons event our hearts were glad to meet each other.

What began was a lovely friendship. I often had lunch at his house. I brought my instruments and sang for Lawrence and his dear wife, Alice. He dropped off presents at the office (a Rodale Word Finder wrapped in tin foil that he told the staff was a box of chocolates). He gifted me his copy of James Quinlan's "History of Sullivan County."

We wrote letters and notes to each other. I visited with him in his dining room when he lay in hospice. I regretted that he died at the young age of 85. I had so wanted to be friends for many more years.

Judge Cooke was a leader among leaders. A Monticello lawyer who became Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals of New York State. He started his workday at 4:00 a.m. and was fast friends with the custodial workers that he would encounter in those early hours. (He would tell me their stories over a simple lunch at his kitchen table.) He championed for women and one of his protégés Judith Kaye followed him as Chief Justice.

He was a wonder. And he thought I was a wonder, too.

I am thankful for that gift, that reflection. And I think about how it’s a marvel that I met him at all.

These chance encounters—somehow my story connecting with Judy Harlan’s and the amazing things that came from it—is a message of redeeming hope. It is a tribute to the touching of hearts through personal story.

I so look forward to the year ahead when we can dig in and find those stories of connection throughout our community. I look forward to championing stories of chance encounters that shape lifetimes.

May your days be filled with chance encounters that enhance and vitalize your life.

All best in the New Year.

For Judge Judith Kaye’s eulogy of Lawrence Cooke, click here:

For my personal reflection at the time of his death, click here:

For the special section celebrating Judge Cooke click here:


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