It was a terrible shock last year when the word began to spread that T. Mark had died unexpectedly. For those of us (those very many of us) to whom he was friend, mentor, colleague and example of the finest kind, it seemed inconceivable that such a vibrant, lively, energetic, endlessly curious and compassionate man could simply be gone. But that's the way death sometimes happens.
I don't know who first had the idea to name it for him, but MLA's Librarians Without Borders taskforce had already been charged with coming up with an award celebrating international service. It seemed a pretty obvious thing to give the award his name, and to make him the first honoree. Judith agreed to come to Philadelphia to accept it for him.
I always get emotional at the awards lunch. I've been at this long enough that I can always count some of the awardees as good friends, and (except for the various student scholarship winners) I generally know most of them at least in passing. I love seeing them honored by their colleagues for the work they've dedicated themselves to, and I don't at all mind getting a little teary on their behalf.
But I came into this lunch dreading the moment that Judith would come up to the podium to accept the award. I'd seen her the evening before, at a reception, the first time I'd seen her since Mark's death. She introduced me to her daughter and spoke easily about "daddy" and some of the things he and I had shared. As far as I could tell from that little encounter she was doing fine.
Coming up to the podium though, would be a big emotional moment -- certainly terribly bittersweet for her, and for all of us who'd known him. I was sure that I'd break down and was worried for her. I watched her as the earlier awards were being handed out, trying to imagine what she was going through, hoping that she was drawing strength from the hundreds of people in the room, many of whom were, I'm sure, watching her just as I was.
I needn't have worried. Yes, I started weeping as soon as the award was announced and Judith started walking up to the podium. But she looked out at us and smiled, and in a clear and strong voice that never quavered, she thanked us, and told us how much the award would have meant to him. She talked about clearing out his office, and finding the award he'd gotten from ICS when he wrote their history, and how she'd found that he'd tucked a little fortune cookie fortune into the frame -- "one day you will receive a great honor." She knew how much that award meant to him. And she said, "Mark wasn't wrong very often, but he was wrong when he thought that was the greatest honor that he'd receive..." She told us how thrilled and moved he would have been to have this award named for him, and to have been its first recipient.
She was gracious, just as articulate as her husband would have been, managed to throw in a light moment or two just to keep us all from falling apart completely, and said all of exactly the right things. The standing ovation was loud and long and full of gratitude.
Grief's a journey. Judith helped us all. Mark would be so very, very proud of her.