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PASSAGES Singer, therapist Paula Walowitz dies
Videos below
by Tracy Baim, Windy City Times
2018-05-25

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Chicago-based singer/songwriter, therapist and activist Paula A. Walowitz, born Sept. 16, 1952, died May 23, 2018 after a short battle with cancer. She was surrounded by friends and her wife, Jean Durkin.

Walowitz was known internationally for her music, and was a regular at Mountain Moving Coffeehouse in Chicago from the 1970s to 1990s. She was a member of the early women's band Surrender Dorothy, and her classic songs included "Goddesses' Rage ( Neopaganomics )," "She's Been Waiting," and "Surprise! I'm a Lesbian."

In addition to a long music career, Walowitz was a professional therapist, including helping in the early years of Lesbian Community Cancer ( now Care ) Project. She was also an astrologer, and had a long-running and very popular astrology column in Nightspots, sister publication to Outlines ( now Windy City Times ), and also wrote articles for those publications.

Durkin and Walowitz, together since 1990, married in Canada in 2003 as soon as marriage equality was legal in parts of that country ( the entire country legalized it in 2005 ).

Walowitz was diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic and ovarian cancer while hospitalized on Jan. 15, 2018. After a second hospitalization and one round of chemo, she made the decision to enter hospice. Walowitz found deep comforting care in hospice while able to stay at home. She died surrounded by lesbian musicians who have shared the stage with her as well as friends, neighbors, and her wife and family. After she passed, the group continued to sing as they created a ritual, washing her body, rattling the energy, saging her, her home, and her friends, and finally filling the cleared energy with Love singing "All You Need is Love."

"Paula drew her last breaths today as her wife Jean, women and lesbians, friends, family and chosen family from many parts of her colorful, kaleidoscopic life surrounded her, joining hands and singing out," said Laurie Lee Moses, a friend and musical colleague. "We sang some of Paula's own original songs, like the goddess chant 'She's Been Waiting,' and 'Surprise! I'm a Lesbian' and other old favorites. The blue notes of 'Angel from Montgomery' and sweet harmonies of 'I'll Fly Away' sung by those beloved voices lifted Paula up and away from this world, peacefully. There were some of us from the 'old days' who had performed with Paula at Mountain Moving Coffeehouse and other LGBT venues around town, so the singing of her music and those old blues/soul favorites were all the more poignant."

Longtime friend Toni Armstrong Jr. said, "Everyone alive touches many lives, but Paula's influence was 10 miles wide and 10 miles deep. Speaking personally just for myself, if it weren't for Paula I would not have moved to Chicago ( and all that followed in terms of my community work ), I would not have gotten the job at Maine East ( subsequently worked there 28 years ), or met Karen Pritikin and bought a bass to be in Starkissed, the 1970s lesbian punk band. Paula introduced me to Mountain Moving Coffeehouse, and we experienced our early Michigan Womyn's Music Festivals and National Women's Music Festivals together. We went to Vegas for the first time together, and New Orleans. Paula found Laurie Lee Moses, and we formed Surrender Dorothy—the comedy show band—specifically to bring OUT LESBIAN MUSIC to Chicago at a time when that wasn't happening. Her goddess chant 'She's Been Waiting' is internationally loved—I was in a women's sacred circle in Australia, and they started singing it, having no idea it was a Surrender Dorothy hit. ( Paula wrote an article for HOT WIRE magazine titled 'Anonymous in my own time.' ) Those who know me and value anything I've done professionally, as a teacher, in travel, in relation to women's music, etc. since the late 1970s, please think of Paula ... if I hadn't met her, my life trajectory would have been extremely different. I say all this for perspective—I am only one person, but look at Paula's far-reaching influence. We truly cannot overestimate the impact Paula had in our individual lives, in the Chicago lesbian community, and in this world."

Mountain Moving collective member Kathy Munzer said, "I can think of no other who exemplified the creativity, talent and lesbian feminism of Mountain Moving better than Paula Walowitz."

Durkin shared these favorite memories: "Busting out our personal best Ethel Merman show tunes, embarrassing the women who brought us to a beach fireworks party, I realized that I could be free to be totally me with Paula. When we met nine years earlier at Mundelein College, my desk clerk girlfriend barred Paula's janitor girlfriend and in their argument we escaped their drama into calm connection with one another. A year later we found privacy at a Capricorn party on the back stairs and sang Irish songs with gusto. Of course in the back row of Mountain Moving Coffeehouse would be where we fell for each other three months later.

"Paula really understood my large Irish Catholic family when on the Dan Ryan we all sang different songs at the top of our lungs ignoring the song on the radio while speeding back to the south suburbs. And I understood hers while singing in her cousin Jimmy's south suburban home where he always won 'Who Knows All the Lyrics' because he never sang a song written later than WWII to baby boomers and younger. But Paula beat him once in a while.

"Resolving a fight during a Grateful Dead concert cemented our commitment to one another, teaching me that listening and loving took labor. We belting out UU hymns bonding us to UCE ( Unitarian Church of Evanston ) and when Paula then shared her songs they brought free flowing tears and love to us.

"On her last days Paula harmonized with her deep labored breath to the birds outside our window.

"Of course we tripped on her lyrics while we sung to her as she was bed bound moments before she died. We leaned on her direction. Without we were a choir that needed a lyric sheet.

"When people have been asking what they can do for me these days I ask that they sing to someone."

Walowitz's great niece Ada was born on the same day she fell ill. Tragically, as Walowitz was nearing death, her dear friend and singing partner Elaine Burgher's youngest daughter Ryan sustained fatal injuries after a fall the day before her college graduation.

Durkin said, "As the crone died in peace and love becoming an ancestor, the maiden offered all her organs to those in need and a new baby girl was born. Walowitz believed she was a 'Drop that would join the Ocean.'"

Walowitz received a BA in English from the University of Illinois ( Urbana ) and an MA in Community Counseling, from Northeastern Illinois University ( Chicago ). She was also a former high school teacher and computer programmer.

In a 2007 interview for the ChicagoGayHistory.org website, Walowitz shared some of her own story.

"I have been mostly fortunate about other people's reactions to my sexual orientation," she said. "Even when I worked for 10 years in corporate America as a computer programmer, people were at least polite about it. ( I was working late one night when a new employee was getting a tour of the workspace. I overheard this: 'That's the coatroom, that's the women's washroom, and over there is where our lesbian sits.' )

"The glaring exception to my good luck about my sexuality was my father, who took the news very hard. An only child, I was very close to my father, but anything having to do with sexuality ( even boyfriends ) made him crazy. So I resolved not to tell him unless he specifically asked about it. One day, over the phone, he started asking questions. I deflected a little, but he seemed determined to know the truth. So I told him. The two of us barely spoke for a year—he told me he wished I had lied to him. Then he got a brain tumor and died from complications following the surgery. He never had the opportunity to get used to the idea. I don't regret telling him. But the fact that he died before seeing how being with women was right for me—that makes me sad."

Walowitz, describing her own legacy, said, "I am most proud of my music. My songs are often about personal change, loving women, and re-conceptualizing theology from a feminist perspective. All of my songs were tools for my own personal growth and later, others have said that the songs supported them to reclaim their power and have fun doing it.

"If I have a legacy, I hope it's that: helping lesbians and gay men feel better about themselves while having fun. I'm still aiming for that as a therapist in the community, though I do recognize that people generally don't have that much actual fun in therapy.

"Jean and I together have a legacy because we ran like the wind to Canada to get married when they made same-sex marriage the law of their land. We were among the first U.S. couples to cross the border to marry each other."

Walowitz was daughter of the late Joseph and Dorothy Walowitz. Familial relations include cousins Jimmy ( deceased ), Gale, Jeanne, Audrey, and Al. Cousin Larry, Anne, and Marvin ( deceased ). Sister and aunt in marriage to many Durkins including Joan, John, Chucky ( deceased ), Mary, Patrick, Mary, Michael, Susan, Monny, and Martin. Aunt to Mark, Matthew, Tim, Michael, Rebecca, Todd, Megan, Luke, Anne, Jack, Julie, Jenny, and Joelle. Great Aunt to Liam, Luke, Conor, Gabriella, Camron, Noah, and Ada.

Walowitz and Durkin worshiped at Unitarian church of Evanston. There will be a memorial Sat., June 16, 5 p.m. at the church, 1330 Ridge Ave., Evanston.

Donation in Paula Walowitz's name can be made to Deborah's Place, 2822 W Jackson Blvd

Chicago, IL 60612.

Video interview with Walowitz here: www.chicagogayhistory.org/biography.html .

Also see interview with Walowitz and Durkin: chicagogayhistory.org/biography.html .

Videos of Walowitz and Friends concert and Surrender Dorothy farewell concert below.



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