In memoriam: lilady

As I write this, I am sadder than I have been for a long time. I recently learned that a frequent commenter here, a woman whose efforts on behalf of children’s health I admired greatly, has passed away. I’m referring to the commenter who went by the ‘nym lilady and sometimes signed her comments with her first name, Connie. Although I knew her real name and approximately where she lived, I don’t want to risk having antivaccine trolls try to contact her family in their time of sadness; so this tribute will refer to her by the online pseudonym by which she became known, lilady.

The first suspicion that something was wrong came two weeks ago, when a commenter left a asked if anyone had seen any comments or heard from lilady. I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time, but then two days ago another commenter asked the same question, and I started to get a sinking feeling. So I investigated and found that the last time lilady had commented here was on April 15. Not being able to recall a single instance when lilady disappeared for four weeks since she first started commenting here in 2010 I was, at this point, well and truly disturbed. This was not good, could not be good.

So lilady’s online compatriots and admirers started investigating. Unfortunately, it was not long before one of them learned that she had passed away in April and that her funeral had already been held. No one has yet learned the circumstances of her death or what happened, but it appears to me that it must have been fairly sudden, because lilady remained active as ever online, and then…just fell silent.

Todd W. over at Harpocrates Speaks has published a tribute to lilady. It’s moving, and I really don’t have much to add. After recounting her career as a public health nurse, Todd notes:

Lilady has been an active voice online, particularly on the topic of vaccinations. She was often one of the first to respond to anti-vaccine myths on news articles from around the country. I first “met” Lilady over on the blog Respectful Insolence. We eventually corresponded via email, and her passion for science and justice always inspired me. She never shirked from telling the hard truths, even if it meant being perceived as gruff or “mean”. And it was amazing to see her in action across the web. Whenever a news story cropped up on autism or vaccines, just as surely as anti-vaccine activists would swoop in to fill the comments with myths and nonsense, you could be sure that Lilady would be there, too, to counter them with science and fact.

And it’s true. I’m starting to realize how much she added to the community that has, incredibly enough, formed around this blog. Whenever some new antivaccine troll would show up, spewing the same old antivaccine nonsense as though it were new, as though she had been the first person to think of it, as though scientists hadn’t thought about it many times before and refuted it, lilady would be there, slapping down the nonsense so that I wouldn’t have to. Don’t get me wrong. There are more pro-science advocates here, and I am honored that you call this blog one of your online homes. You take a huge burden off my shoulders, because I barely have time to produce the Insolence that you all know and love and most definitely don’t have the time to engage with every antivaccine troll who shows up in the comments. While several of you quite capably handle the trolls so that I can concentrate on producing new material, I will miss lilady, because no one can do it quite like she did. Few are as persistent or knowledgeable. And it wasn’t just here, either. Whenever the antivaccine flying monkey brigade from Age of Autism would descend on a news story or blog post to fling antivaccine poo at it, there lilady would go, refuting the nonsense and helping other bloggers feel that they weren’t alone facing the deluge of pseudoscience.

What I regret now, as I regret with Mark Probert (and I hope you remember him), is that I never had the opportunity to meet her in person. Now I never will. But I will remember her intelligence, take no bullshit manner and fierce dedication to protecting children.