Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Memorial Birthday Message: Patti S. Bednarik

Patti S. Bednarik, Esq.

"Estate planning for pets" remains an important consideration for folks in a relationship with one or more beloved companion animals -- faithful pets -- whose well-being, even survival, depends upon a thoughtful owner. This is an awareness I've held for the past ten years or more, since being introduced to the concern by my dear late friend Patti S. Bednarik, Esq.

Tomorrow, May 21, 2014, would be her 57th birthday; but, so tragically, she left us last year on October 26, 2013, after courageous contention with cancer. 

Yet Patti feels quite near me this afternoon because of three events with synchronicity.

"Synchronicity" according to Wikopedia, is:

. . . the experience of two or more events as meaningfully related, where they are unlikely to be causally related. The subject sees it as a meaningful coincidence. The concept of synchronicity was first described by Carl Jung, a Swiss psychologist, in the 1920s. * * *
Three events today highlight this concept, and draw me close in memory of Patti.

Event No. 1: Patti's birthday tomorrow, which was brought to my attention by an email sent automatically from one of the social websites where Patti and I still remain connected as "friends", despite her death.

Event No. 2: An email message sent by Progressive Law Practice highlighting an article entitled In Pets We Trust: Providing for Animal Care After Death (05/20/14). The article discusses "pet trusts" -- a legal structure allowed in 47 states, including Pennsylvania under the PA Uniform Trust Act, effective in 2006.  I served on the drafting subcommittee, and advocated for inclusion of "pet trust" provisions (Sections 7738 & 7739), which thrilled Patti. That "pet trust" article demonstrates the new opportunities opened by animal-loving lawyers, like Patti.

Event No. 3: Another email message, sent by the Pennsylvania Bar Association, reminding members of the PBA Animal Law Committee about our upcoming meeting, to be held Thursday, June 5, 2014, at 11:30 a.m., in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, with conference call-in capability for members. Patti was founder and first chair of the Animal Law Committee.

Two months ago, I intended to post a remembrance of Patti by way of a Memorial Resolution drafted by me and Jesse Smith, Esq.  Perhaps from sadness, I delayed.

With such synchronicity at work today in three separate elements with a common thread, I get the message.  I must post that remembrance now, on the eve of Patti's birthday, in celebration of her life's work, loving and protecting animals.

The Memorial Remarks below were presented orally, with some alterations, at a session of the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas, sitting in a Memorial Resolution Session, at 4:00 PM, Wednesday, March 19, 2014, on behalf of a committee tasked with honoring the memory of Patti, publicly. The final version, in PDF format, is found on the "Memorials" web page of the Dauphin County Bar Association's website.

Jesse, as committee chair, presented it, along with a resolution (omitted below), in a packed courtroom.  [My additions and links are indicated in brackets.]

I offered an oral "second" to the Memorial Resolution. My remarks (edited a bit from the court transcript) provide a fitting conclusion to this blog posting in Patti's honor, as she speaks directly to us.

Memorial Remarks for
Patti Rose Scheimer Bednarik

"It is not length of life, but depth of life."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson


Greetings to the Judges of the Court, to Patti’s beloved husband and fellow attorney Joseph Bednarik, to family members including her brothers Alan, Craig and Gary Scheimer, to friends and coworkers, and to her colleagues at the Bar.

We come together today to mark the transit of Patti Bednarik through our ranks. She stood among us, and then she was gone -- far too soon, on October 26, 2013, at the age of 56 -- after courageous fights with a major heart attack, kidney disease, and finally cancer.

She will be remembered. Her legacy will be perpetuated by those whom she inspired, and also through the work she accomplished.

From Plato and the Pythagoreans, through many religions, and into our common thought today, there is the notion that all good things come in threes. Today, as her professional peers, we think about Patti as a wonderful combination of three distinct qualities and roles, in one person.

This is not to disregard her roles as a spouse, a sister, an aunt, or a friend. But today, we celebrate her role as an attorney.

Patti was an unusual combination of:

  • an administrator demanding accountability, 
  • an advocate seeking change, and
  • an adventurer indulging in exploration.
She demonstrated that one person can enforce legal standards and rules as an administrator while prosecuting cases, and then pioneer change in a new area – Animal Law - with passion as an advocate, and yet still enjoy living with excitement and wonder as an adventurer.

Think of these three roles as we tell her story.

Early Life, Education, and Travels

Patti was born on May 21, 1957, in Mount Lebanon, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Milton and Beatrice Scheimer, known to all as "Buzzy" and "Skippy". Her parents were sweethearts in high school, where Buzzy was the class president (with a great sense of humor), and Skippy was homecoming queen.

The Scheimers had three sons – Alan, Craig and Gary -- before Patti, their only girl. Justice Max Baer, one of Patti’s cousins, remembers the joy that the announcement “It’s a girl” brought to their family.

Her father affectionately called her “Rosie”; others called her “Patti Roses.” Always, a loving family molded Patti’s life. She eventually became an amazing aunt to eleven nieces and nephews, including her godson Benjamin Baer, who is now an attorney.

Patti was always an adventurer. At age 7, she went on a bike ride before learning how to use the brakes. She went over a cliff and hit a tree. This serious accident likely taught her something about consequences.

However, the memory of it did not keep her from relearning how to ride a bike during law school. Then, in 2012, she rode a bike 18 miles down a mountain in a Jamaican rainforest. We assume the length of the ride was due to her intentions, not to any lingering confusion about the brakes.

Patti was known from an early age as brilliant. However, she was also absent-minded. Can any of you relate to this?

Patti kept losing her house keys! To help, her father installed in their home what may have been the first keyless entry system in Pennsylvania, proving that obstacles can be overcome.

On August 23, 1972, a 15-year-old Patti decided to reserve that random day of the year, each year, for “celebration, introspection and reflection,” and for trying something new. She did this for the next forty years, resulting in escapades, new skills, and service to others.

Patti finished high school early so she could spend a year in Israel. Against all expectations, she returned home with a boyfriend who was not Jewish, but a Bedouin Muslim. Luckily for Joe, that relationship did not last, but it did provide Patti with experiences like riding a donkey sidesaddle to family gatherings.

Patti chose not to join the family appliance business with her father and two of her brothers. Instead, she started college at Pennsylvania State University, transferred to George Washington University for one semester, left college and worked for a year for the United States Senate Budget Committee, then returned to Penn State.

There she settled into a major -- Social Welfare. She excelled and became a College Marshal -- a student with near-perfect grades and many honors and activities -- who was chosen by faculty to lead her thousands of College classmates into graduation ceremonies in 1981.

During that one college semester in Washington, D.C., in 1977, she met her future husband, Joe Bednarik. He was finishing law school. She signed up on a “ride board” to share a ride to their mutual hometown, Pittsburgh. They would date for seventeen years before marrying in April 1994.

After college, Patti returned to Israel for a year to work for the United Nations, studying the elderly population there. She became fluent in Hebrew, which she later taught at her temple.

Upon her return from Israel, she first earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Maryland, and then a law degree from UCLA School of Law, in Los Angeles, California.

Characteristically, immediately after graduation from law school, she went on a whirlwind tour of fifteen countries in seventeen days, before she began work at a California law firm as a litigation associate.

Joe accompanied Patti to California for her legal education and her early years of practice. He stayed there when Patti returned to Pittsburgh to care for her ailing mother. After her mother’s death, Patti got a new job – in Las Vegas, Nevada! So Joe who loved the desert was in Venice Beach, California; and Patti, who loved the beach, was in Las Vegas. But not for long.

Both decided to return to Pittsburgh – neither the beach, nor desert, but home -- in 1989.

As an advocate, Patti worked as an Assistant District Attorney in the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, while Joe got a job in Harrisburg.

Patti proposed to Joe in November 1993, with dramatic flair – she used the scoreboard at a Penguins hockey game at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh before thousands of fans.

Work and Life in Harrisburg

In 1996, Patti began work at the Supreme Court Disciplinary Board in Harrisburg, when many of us came to know her.

Now begins our formal recitation of Patti's accomplishments, both as an administrator and also as an advocate, while she was among us in Harrisburg:

  • Counsel for District III, Office of Disciplinary Counsel, of the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania (1996-2010)
  • Member, Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners, Supreme Court of Pennsylvania (2007-2010)
  • Founder and first Chair of the Animal Law Committee of the Pennsylvania Bar Association
  • Course Planner for the first Animal Law Conference presented by the Pennsylvania Bar Institute in 2004, and the planner thereafter
  • Member (appointed by Governor Edward G. Rendell in 2006) of the Dog Law Advisory Board, where she helped pass a stricter law for commercial breeding kennels a/k/a puppy mills.
  • Adjunct Professor of Law, first at Widener University School of Law (Harrisburg Campus) teaching Professional Responsibility, and then at Penn State (Dickinson) School of Law (Carlisle Campus), teaching its first Animal Law course.
  • Director of Character and Fitness for the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners (2010-2013), where she determined the suitability of candidates for admission to the Pennsylvania Bar.
That is an impressive record.

How she acted, while doing all that, is better described by others who knew her:
  • "Patti was honest, unaffected, and authentic. She said what she thought and didn't try to color it. And she was completely truthful, not because she wanted to be, but because she didn't know how to be anything else. She had a keen mind, an impressive intellect, and a wit to match."
  • "In her teaching, Patti was as she was in all things -- incredibly patient, dedicated, and thoughtful. Patti had an enviable ability to 'connect' with people and share her passions. One testament to her teaching ability was that every year she taught, her enrollment grew."
  • "Patti called me all excited to tell me about the seminar that she had finally managed to convince PBI to present on Animal Law and listed the topics that would be covered. I replied 'But Patti, you haven't included anything about service animals.' Patti didn’t miss a beat. 'You're absolutely right', she replied. 'Will you present on that?' Patti's enthusiasm was always so contagious. She had her topic and presenter."
  • "Patti was not just a dreamer; she was a doer. Her aspirations rose high, while her work remained grounded. For those of us who watched her do it, we instinctively felt her passion, attention, and energy."
Patti loved animals and especially dogs -- perhaps the most devoted of pets. On weekends, Patti and Joe transported homeless dogs in legs of journeys to shelters, foster homes, and adoptive families. Patti continued this volunteer work until she could no longer drive.

After Hurricane Katrina struck, Patti and Joe traveled to Louisiana to work with the Humane Society, helping to rescue dogs abandoned in New Orleans. There they found and adopted their beloved Chow Chow, Trina, who became a star guest at the PBI Animal Law Conferences.

"Patti’s Battle"

Patti learned several years before her death that she had polycystic kidney disease and would eventually need a transplant. That time came in November 2012, when Patti was returning from a bus trip, helping victims of Hurricane Sandy. She had already survived a major heart attack in 2011. She celebrated her recovery in 2012 with a “Happy to be Alive” party attended by over 100 guests. Now she was engaged in a new battle for survival.

At least ten people immediately began testing to donate a kidney for Patti. One was Dr. Deborah Toder, a friend of Patti’s since age two; one was attorney Nadia Adawi, Past Chair of the PBA Animal Law Committee – neither was a match. Attorney Laurie Besden was a match and had committed to donate her kidney. Instead, Patti ended up receiving a transplant from a dying donor at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

But one week after the successful transplant, she learned from her physicians that she had Stage 3 cancer. After initial treatments, she and Joe returned to their mutual home, Pittsburgh, again. They bought a furnished house with a view of the home where Patti grew up.

So, after all her adventures -- parachuting from an airplane, paragliding over glaciers in Alaska, swimming with wild Hector Dolphins off the shore of New Zealand, riding the scariest roller coasters, studying tap dance, and engaging in meditation -- she returned to her roots: a familiar place, and her family.

Her sister-in-law, Deborah Scheimer, sent email updates about Patti’s condition under the heading “Patti’s Battle.” Patti contributed her own positive and grateful commentary when she could.

On Saturday morning, October 26, 2013, Deb sadly wrote: “Our dear Patti’s battle is over. She slipped away peacefully as she slept last night. May Her Memory Be a Blessing.”

Patti’s Legacy

Numerous stories and obituaries about Patti appeared, including those in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [Patti Bednarik / Attorney was advocate for animal rights, published 10/27/14], the Harrisburg Patriot-News [Aug. 23 Adventure challenges you to do something extraordinary on an ordinary day, published 03/30/13, and Pennsylvania animal-law pioneer remembered for both her passion and her compassion, published 11/05/13], and the Philadelphia Inquirer [Patti Bednarik: Champion of animal welfare, published 10/29/14]. These accounts highlighted the loss of a very special person, who bravely fought her last battle.

[For a touching personal reflection about Patti, by a young lawyer once taught by her, see: Patti Bednarik – My Inspiration, posted October 31, 2013, by Angelique M. Bailey, Esq.]


In the November, 2013 Newsletter of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Disciplinary Board, the esteem held for Patti by her professional peers was stated clearly:

Patti’s enthusiasm and positive outlook were an inspiration to all who knew her.

She was a skillful lawyer, a passionate teacher and advocate, a generous, adventurous spirit, and a treasured friend.

We will miss her deeply.
Well said, and known as true by us, her Memorial Committee, about our dear friend and professional peer, Patti Bednarik, Esquire. * * *

Oral Seconding Remarks
in Memory of Patti S. Bednarik, Esq.
by Neil E. Hendershot, Esq.

I rise to second the resolution, and most particularly the second phrase of it, talking about how Patti was inspirational for us.

Patti was a special friend of mine.  Let's see, I think she was a special friend to anybody she knew.  Would you agree?  

I got to know her in 2004 or '05 when she was planning that first Animal Law Institute.  I got one of those calls.  She wanted to have someone talk about "estate planning for animals".  So I became the spokesperson initially for Estate Planning for Pets statewide in Pennsylvania -- because Patti wanted somebody to do that.

I followed her through some of her other challenges -- when she wrote [and arranged for] the PBA Quarterly articles about Animal Law, and when she worked to found the Committee on Animal Law of the Pennsylvania Bar Association.  Luckily I never associated with her in her professional role as disciplinary counsel.

Patti and I had a special relationship in another way.  We both had some physical suffering.  On my part, I had a burst appendix, and I've had a broken neck.  On Patti's part, she had a severe heart attack, kidney failure, and then cancer.

It is amazing how the Emerson quote [above] is correct -- It's not the length of a life, it's the depth -- and it's not the length of time that you spend with someone, it's the depth of your connection when you do it.  That's the way it was with Patti and me.

At the Animal Law Institute, we spent an hour and a half talking about her heart operation.  We approached subjects that lawyers generally don't talk about -- death, God, responsibility.  

One week before she had her scheduled transplant, she called me.  She said "I had to. I need to talk about those things again." For three hours we talked about those subjects again.

Then when she got the diagnosis of cancer, we started up an e-mail exchange and we talked about those [same subjects again].

I'm going to finish my second, not by speaking anymore about Patti; but I'm going to let Patti speak to you from some of those e-mail exchanges that we had, and some that [her sister-in-law] Deb posted.  

This is what Patti had to teach us, and now teaches you:
  • One of the things that was reinforced in my life was how many wonderful, selfless, loving, and supportive people I have in my life, and how much I have to be grateful for.
  • I know how fortunate I am to have such a loving committed family and such great friends.
  • Before cancer, I was constantly multitasking and judging myself, mostly on how much I accomplished.  For example, I don't think I ever drove a car without listening to an audiobook.  Now, when I get into my car, I often don't have the radio on or an audiobook.  I am content to drive the speed limit and just concentrate on where I'm going. 
  • I am learning not to judge myself for what I can accomplish and to just appreciate living.  There was an article in The New York Times yesterday entitled "The Value of Suffering" [by Pico Iyer, published September 7, 2013]. The author wrote that a Hindu tradition stated people should have to pay for suffering, because it is such a hidden blessing in people's lives.  Often, people gain a certain clarity about their life and their place in the world.  I have noticed that many of the cancer survivors whom I have met, seem to have a heightened sense of empathy and compassion. 
  • I too believe we all have a mission and purpose in life that is God's Will.  I have been trying to express my gratitude everyday to God for the fact that my kidney is working well, and for all of the little things along the way that made it possible for me to get a transplant.
  • Believe me, I will continue to try to celebrate the good things in my life, and to pray for good things in your lives.
So, I second the resolution.