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Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012 03:07 pm

She made many friends, and her friends became friends with each other

NANCY LEE GANGULI March 1, 1944 – June 22, 2012

“Thanks for my walk upon the dust and stone / of this earth, to have fought for air, light and beauty / of my imperfect but so precious world.”

Nancy Ganguli’s words and adoration touched many throughout Springfield, the U.S. and India. Even those who knew her briefly realized they were connecting with something special. Nancy celebrated the good in existence – of nature, of people, of life.

Nancy moved from Springfield to Spokane Valley, Wash., a year and a half ago because of failing health and to be with daughters, Shonti and Priya. This summer while in the hospital after surgery, she learned that complications would take her life. She wanted the hospice room to be “lively and energetic” and the trio speaker-phoned and visited with friends and family during her remaining time. Explained Priya, “Our mother knew she was loved dearly and accepted the end of her life with grace and peace – the most precious gift a mother can give to her children.” The girls had always known of their mom’s generosity and knack for interacting with others. They knew she reveled in introducing her friends who did not know each other. But they were still astonished and moved when a huge number came together, on the phone and in person, during those last couple days.

Nancy’s friends became friends with each other mostly because Nancy invited those she thought might hit if off to dinner together. She was a skilled cook who learned from her husband’s family in Kolkata how to cook Indian food. Communal meals were a way that she could connect her dots of friends. And no one could refuse the yummy array of dishes. I happily feasted with Nancy’s banker, her handyman, fellow St. John’s Hospital RNs, her cleaning lady, her gardener, friends from Indiana, Ohio and Washington and Bengali family and friends from California, North Carolina, New Jersey, India and Canada. When not eating scrumptious meals, I exchanged emails with her out-of-state apartment building tenants and visited the sisters she cared for at St. Francis Convent. The list goes on.

 Even recent friends developed deep reverence for Nancy. One remarked, “I feel so honored to have known her, even if for a short time.” Strangers immediately warmed to her. I witnessed this at drive-up windows, with store clerks and restaurant waiters. Nancy would strike up a conversation or ask a question. Authentically interested in others, she had no fear about reaching out to anyone. All were equally accessible and approachable. All were equally worthy of being accessible and approachable.

Some didn’t understand her enormous generosity, such as support and direction to a handyman to own his own apartment building. Others were taken aback when she hired a homeless man she met at the senior center. Likewise, it was difficult for some to watch when she bought a huge, old foreclosed house on the corner of Washington and State streets and remodeled it extensively. She knew it was good for her own property value, but Nancy really spent thousands of dollars and attention on the home because of her desire to do the right thing for the good of neighborhood and community.

Springfield was home to her, and to her beloved husband Madhu, a Southern Illinois University School of Medicine research scientist, before he died unexpectedly in 2006. In their 43 years together they had lived many places. She never fully recovered from the absence of the love-of-her-life. She reminisced often of her affection for his coffee and crème-colored skin – perhaps that’s why she loved coffee so much! The last years were difficult without him and with her failing health, but she pushed on without complaint. She pressed her pain into writing – she was an adept communicator and poet. Her articulate, intelligent and upbeat conversation and her lovely, poetic flair in speech and writing will be missed. She was an active Springfield Poets and Writers member, honored one year as a featured reader. She supported its youth anthology and helped bring an Indiana State University professor and mentor to town. She was also treasured by a poetry group in Spokane Valley.

Nancy died in the soft arms of words and affection. As requested, her daughters read poems from her favorite poet, Tagore, her own poetry and that of friends. She also listened to the music of Ottmar Liebert, Sarah Brightman, Judy Collins and Loreena McKennitt. She once noted in a poetry publication bio, “I love music, chess and Scrabble and open doors, do not like compartmentalized thinking and feeling. I love flowing movement amidst diversity.” To Nancy we are all different species of plants and flowers with our feet in the same soil and our heads in the same sunlight. Words were water to grow love. As a humanist she gifted kindness and goodwill while alive and was lucky to receive the gratitude for that returned before she died.

She would say to you now, dear reader, potential friend or much-loved friend, the words she closed many conversations with: “I love you dear friend past the stars. Take my love and wrap it around you.”

–Anita Stienstra


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