â€œAt what point does a cemetery become meaningful to a person?â€Â Â My husband and I were driving back from visiting several family gravesites when he posed the question.Â This particular cemetery is in Michigan, and our visits are sporadic at best.Â As we walked the grounds and placed bouquets on the headstones there was a sense of peace, but also a wistfulness that persisted in my thoughts.
Each grave marked a life lived and lost.Â What ripples did each of the deceased leave on the future? My husbandâ€™s infant brother, for example, had only known life for two days before he died.Â As a mother I can only imagine the endless torture the death of a baby would invite– Did I do something wrong?Â Did I miss something?Â Can I have another child?Â Will I have another child?Â What if it happens again? Can I bear the emptiness in my arms and heart? It was soul wrenching to ponder. Â I moved on.
Many of the headstones were old and, much like the bodies buried beneath, wore the patina of rainstorms, winter frosts, and sunny days.Â Fading inscriptions â€œLoving Mother,â€ or â€œBeloved Fatherâ€ made me smile.
My husband and I walked along the uneven row of graves in search of one in particular.Â It was a simple, flat stone inscribed â€œPatricia Carrigan.Â 1928-2013.Â Home is where the cat is.â€Â We found it at last.Â It had fresh dirt around the edges and a Siamese cat etched into the granite. Â One eye of the cat had lost its blue tint, but the other reflected what looked like a piece of the sky.
The day before our gravesite visit, a memorial service was held for Pat at Michigan State Universityâ€™s College of Veterinary Medicine. The schoolâ€™s atrium was decorated with photographs of Pat, as well as exhibiting a number of cat figurine collectables she donated.
Besides the Patricia M. Carrigan Chair for Feline Health, Pat had also established a scholarship for talented woodwind musicians.Â Â In her honor three female student woodwind musicians played softly in the background as friends and family reminisced about an extraordinary woman, and her extraordinary life.
The musicians stopped their music as speakers came to the podium to talk about the Pat Carrigan they knew.Â Â My husband (Patâ€™s favorite cousin as she liked to say to him), and I were seated at a small table directly in front of the podium and the musicians.Â As Patâ€™s accolades were shared, I watched the young women musicians and wondered what they were thinking.Â Although they retained an erect posture with ankles demurely crossed, their facial expressions had drifted far away from the speaker at hand.
Did they know about Pat at all, or was she just a name attached to a scholarship?Â As they heard the speakers talk of the ground Pat broke so women could follow, did they realize the wonder of it?
Patricia Carrigan received her doctorate in clinical psychology in 1963.Â She served the Ann Arbor Public Schools as director of research where she designed and headed a federally funded project studying the effects of desegregation on students in the Ann Arbor elementary schools.
In 1970 she was the first woman elected to the MSU Board of Trustees and subsequently became the first woman to chair the Board.
When her project for the Ann Arbor Schools ended, Pat took an executive position with the Bendix Corporation, and then joined General Motors.Â Three years later, in 1982, she became the first woman to head a U.S. automotive plant when she was appointed manager of the Lakewood Assembly Plant in Atlanta, Georgia. Â She gained a national reputation for workplace innovationâ€¦for instance she abolished the executive dining room in â€œher plantâ€ declaring all would eat together.Â She also limited the times and places executives could wear suits believing it helped reduce theÂ â€œthemâ€ and â€œusâ€ attitude between workers.
As each of the speakers came forth and told their stories about Pat it was all I could do to keep the tears at bay.Â I had known her for about fourteen years, and wish it could have been much longer. Â If only the timing had been different I would have asked her so many questions and would have learned so much.Â But, as it was, Patâ€™s mental and physical health was declining for much of the time I knew her.
The realization of time lost once again turned my attention to the evident boredom on the musicianâ€™s faces.Â Perhaps they will never know the swath Patricia Carrigan cut for them.Â Pity.Â Women like Pat made the education and career choices they take for granted possible.Â But that was in the past and history is boring, right?
When my husband asked, â€œAt what point does a cemetery become meaningful to a person?â€Â I couldnâ€™t help but think, â€œAt what point does a visionary become meaningful to society?â€
Rest in peace, Pat.Â Your spirit and work will shine on in the countless opportunities you made possible by ignoring barriers and by your unshakable belief in equality. Â You made a difference.Â How many of us can say that?