I had a death-centric Sunday yesterday, that’s for sure.
First, we did the AIDS Walk out in Golden Gate Park. Our little 4-person team raised almost $3000, and, since there were about 20,000 people out there a lot of money was raised. Overall, more than $2,500,000 was raised yesterday and – even subtracting the pay of some overpaid CEO or ED – it’s a wonderful community event.
It’s funny, I haven’t been for a decade or so and it is a much more celebratory, rather than funereal, event these days in year 25. People had reminders of their dead – names written on their shirts, stuffed animals with name tags, the Quilt etc. – but the atmosphere was very much like a booze-free early morning party. It’s hard to feel sad when Cheer SF, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and the Stanford Marching Band is cheering you on.
We walked to the Ocean and caught a slow N bus (construction at Duboce and Church!) back home so I could make the memorial to Daphne Zepos at the Cheese School.
Daphne was a big deal in the cheese world. She was diagnosed three months ago with late stage cancer and passed away (at age 52) before many of us in the cheese world realized that things were that serious and that close. My facebook page and many personal conversations revolved around her death for the last week or so. We are a small community and you know it’s a big deal when one of us gets an NY Times Obit.
I held off from writing anything about her for a couple of reasons. The first is a common feeling… did I know her well enough to claim the space of mourning? That can often be a trap. Being a person who works in a very public place, and having lived within the same 8 block radius for nearly 25 years, many people who have passed through my life have died. It’s not usually my first realization, but I have come to learn over the years that even one nice memory is a gift to those left behind.
The other reason I hesitated was that so many others of you have written so eloquently about what Daphne meant to you. Emi, Anthea, Kirstin… and so many others. My relationship with Daphne was not as profound as the way she mentored many of you. I wanted to leave space for your words.
Daphne and I started working in cheese at around the same time so we had a different relationship. In fact, some reading may remember that we actually had a difficult relationship at the beginning. I won’t go into that except to say that cheese was too important for both of us to not forge a working relationship and a friendship. Over the years I realized that she was an extremely generous person, someone it was a pleasure to be around, someone I always looked forward to seeing at cheese events. Someone who was an extremely important person in our little world.
If you can’t deal with strong, opinionated women, the specialty cheese world is not the place for you. Daphne was always a force to be reckoned with. Sometimes a disorganized force who couldn’t quite seem to arrive on time, but always a force. Some of you who didn’t know her might think that sounds disrespectful, but it was part of her charm. There was always so much to do and so much great cheese. Even though she died at 52, no one can say she didn’t make the most of her time here on the planet. Most profoundly, she respected back and forth and honest discussion in a way that many people can’t handle. While I will agree with her completely on her L’amuse Gouda being the best anywhere, and I rank her Essex St. Comte as right up their with the best, she took it in stride when I told her I preferred my Parmigiano Reggiano to the one she imported. I mean, we argued about it — and I think we both had fun while we staked out our positions — but she understood my opinion.
She never took that kind of thing personally. I think she loved the fact that there was a community in the USA where she could have those kinds of debates. Her tireless work played a part in the fact that that community exists and thrives today.
I actually haven’t come to grips with the fact that she won’t be at the next ACS conference, at the next important cheese tasting, at the Cheese School the next time I am there… I think her loss will be felt even more when I arrive in one of those spaces and she never shows up. I’ll miss the way I wouldn’t see her coming and then suddenly she would appear next to me behind the cheese counter. We don’t allow many people to do that but we would never have thought of saying no to her, (not that she ever asked.)
Goodbye Daphne. You will be missed tremendously. You touched the lives of many, many people. What more could someone really ask for than that?