Monday, November 18, 2013


Ellen and I are in New York City at the bedside of Ellen's old and dear friend, Adrienne Asch, who is in her final hours. Ellen and Adrienne go back almost fifty years to Swarthmore College days.
Adrienne has been dealing with cancer for some time, and it has spread into her brain lining. We first came down two weeks ago when Adrienne was in Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital, and was receiving radiation therapy. At that time, Adrienne was still able to communicate, albeit in very limited ways. Her face showed great pleasure at the presence of friends, and she could answer simple "yes" "no" questions. But now, two weeks later, she is home in her apartment and she is almost completely unresponsive; many of the physical signs suggest that the end is near. We came down Saturday and will probably stay to the end.

Adrienne is a truly remarkable person. If you Google "Dr. Adrienne Asch" you will find out just how remarkable she is. Or better yet, go to YouTube, put in her name, and watch her talk at a Tarrytown, NY conference in 2010 on Bio-ethics. I am particularly grateful to Adrienne because just a month ago, she agreed to be a sponsor for the Blanche Moyse Chorale performance of the Christmas Oratorio. I first met Adrienne 10 years ago when she came to a Marlboro concert of the Chorale with Ellen - just after Ellen and I had met. She is a great lover of J.S. Bach. She was also a manager for the choral group Western Wind for some time, and they came to her hospital room and sang for her last week. Scores of friends have made the pilgrimage to see her in her final weeks. E.g., a former student of hers at Wellesley who is now a grad student in philosophy at Stanford came today all the way from San Francisco just to see Adrienne and pay her respects. She feels Adrienne was her finest teacher, and although the mother of 8-month old twins(!) she took the time to come all the way east to say her goodbyes in person. That is typical of the influence Adrienne has had in people's lives. 

Dr. Adrienne Asch

This is the second such vigil we have kept this fall. Through all of September and into October we spent many hours at the bedside of my friend, John Nissen, another remarkable person. John died on October 4th, and his funeral was on October 26th. That was another occasion when the testimonies people gave made clear what a wonderful mentor John had been to so many people, especially students. These vigils have given Ellen and me many opportunities to reflect on life and death, to review our own wishes for our final days and hours, and to give thanks for life and for each other.

John Nissen

We hold Adrienne and John in our hearts!


  1. Very sad to hear this news. RIP Adrienne

  2. Adrienne, your legacy lives on - להיתרות עילה השלומ

  3. I was lucky enough to take classes with her at Wellesley and got to know her better as her personal assistant before graduating in '98. She became an important mentor to me over the years, and I will miss her dearly. I always called her Professor Adrienne because I couldn't get myself to call her just by her first name as she told me to do (it didn't feel respectful enough), and over time, she came to love that. She once wrote me: "I love your name for me; it is some kind of comfort when I think about all
    the things I could and should do better." Professor Adrienne, I love and miss you!

  4. Devastating news. Dr. Asch's work has been so important to me over many years.

  5. A remarkable woman and Swarthmore colleague. Lovely to learn more of her life's work. Sad to hear that she is gone.