Judy Neri, Antioch class of 1962, died on September 25, 2021, in Silver Spring, MD, of pneumonia and other systemic illnesses. Born on Sept. 18, 1939, Judy grew up in Baltimore, the daughter of an Irish-American nurse and a Jewish doctor who had left his native Germany in the 1930s. At Antioch, where she studied literature and theater, she and fellow-Antiochian Linda Hoffman sang and played folk music at local venues in Yellow Springs and also in France, when they went to Besançon as part of Antioch Abroad.
She met her husband, Umberto Neri, and moved to Chicago where she obtained a Masters degree in Comparative Literature. Judy was fluent in French, and also in Italian, after many trips to visit Bert’s native country. Judy and Bert moved to Maryland, where she finished her PhD at the University of Maryland in Reformation Literature. Judy and Bert had one daughter, Laura.
Judy loved language and culture, and built on the Hebrew she learned from her father so that she could read Torah at temple services later in her life. She taught English and Italian at the University of Illinois Chicago Circle, George Washington University, Northern Virginia Community College, and the University of Maryland. Judy also began a faculty union at the Chicago Circle campus, and later worked for a teacher’s union in Maryland.
Judy was diagnosed with a virulent form of rheumatoid arthritis in her late 20s. Athletic in high school, she was using a wheelchair by the time she was in her 50s. She said she’d had more surgeries than she could actually remember, but “more than 30.” She participated in clinical trials as new RA treatments were developed, but it wasn’t until the biologic drugs came along in the 21 st century that her disease came under some control.
As her own mobility diminished, she took up the cause of disability rights. Judy’s progressive beliefs had developed over many decades. She and Bert had marched in anti-HUAC campaigns and protested the war in Vietnam. Judy adopted feminist principles and worked to support women writers. She was a fierce advocate of unions and defender of the rights of working people, which eventually included her caregivers and handicap-services drivers. In her later years she became active in the movement for gun safety, helping to found an advocacy group at Temple Sinai in Washington, DC, where she was a long-time member.
In mid-life, she began to explore the medium of poetry, took many workshops and classes with accomplished writers and published a number of essays and poems in various journals. But they also appeared in surprising places: a snippet from one poem can be found on a park bench in Bethesda MD; another was included in the prayerbook of Reform Judaism. Some of her poetry includes reflections on loss, change and disability. In 2008 she published a full-length book of poetry Always the Trains through New Academia Press. She amused and tutored her loved ones with writings like “A Cookbook for Those Who Would Rather Not.” She participated for years in a weekly group of accomplished poets until her death in 2021.
Judy and Bert divorced amicably, and in her last eight years Judy lived with her partner, Jill Raymond, in the home where she had lived for 50 years in Silver Spring, MD. She maintained her writing and her participation in activities at Temple Sinai until her last, long hospitalization for pneumonia, congestive heart failure and COPD.
Her many friends, spanning all the decades of her life, knew her as one of the kindest people to ever gifted to the planet. Her memorial service, which took place at Temple Sinai on Oct. 1 2021, included Song for the man from the Auvergne, by Georges Brassens. Linda Hoffman recalled it as one of Judy’s favorites, which the two of them had sung together in Yellow Springs and in France. At Judy’s memorial service, it was sung by a young musician friend, one of Judy’s several “angels” who had come by weekly to help her out with disability-related chores and to absorb her wisdom, bravery and love of the world.