Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

By Dr. Patricia Yarberry Allen

Beneath a canopy of moist trees, and just the promise of a soft rain, a very special man was laid to rest this weekend in Sag Harbor, New York. Clay Felker was a legend and was known to be an exacting task master. At Oakland cemetary, he would have loved the Navy guard, the hymns, and the personal and creative way his wife, Gail Sheehy, produced this last edition of his life.

Clay was a man who loved the world of words and magazines and a man who especially loved New York. He was also a man who gave women a chance during the time that most women journalists were relegated to fact checking unless they were at the traditional women’s magazines.  The list of women who were mentored at New York Magazine by Clay included Gloria Steinem, Gael Greene, Mimi Sheraton, Judith Crist, Julie Baumgold, Barbara Goldsmith, Joan Hamburg, Linda Bird Francke, of course, Gail Sheehy. In fact, Ms. Magazine was born as an insert in New York magazine, with Clay, as Gloria Steinem has noted, never even taking a financial stake.

You can read all about Clay here and here.  But I want to talk about his wife, Gail Sheehy.  More than a friend, Gail has been an inspiration for those of us who’ve seen what she has experienced over the last decade.  Clay was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in 1992, then had a recurrence in 1996.  Head and neck cancer is often fatal especially when it recurs.

Gail became the general In charge of all Clay’s medical care, doing the research on the latest treatments and the best doctors in the best medical centers.  Clay survived difficult choices, difficult treatments, but lived to have a productive life for another 15 years.

In her role as loving wife and brilliant and devoted caretaker, Gail put her husband’s health before all else in her life. There were many crises, some predictable and others unexpected, that called upon her hypervigilance and unmatched ability to demand the best for her husband time and time again.

Gail never failed her husband. I am still unable to comprehend how she did what she did, all the while writing books and articles, giving speeches and living a very public life.  (You can read her latest piece on Hillary Clinton in Vanity Fair here.)

As his health worsened in the last 6 months, around the clock nursing care and hospice became part of their home life.  Time away for Gail was an impossibility.

Gail wrote to their friends and family on June 24th letting us know that Clay was “approaching the final deadline of his life”.  It is a remarkable story of a courageous man and the woman who gave him a real life after his cancer recurrence with creativity, determination and inspiration. Gail has given us permission to include her letter on our blog, and you will find it below.  Clay was told on June 17th that the tube feedings that had given him fuel for the last ten years were no longer being absorbed and were causing overflow into the lungs.  He understood that the tube had to be removed and accepted that the end was near.  As you read the remarkable e-letter from Gail, you will understand in a small way, the gifts of inspiration that Gail gave Clay time and time again.

Those who gathered Sunday to celebrate Clay Felker – a stunning collection of writers and artists – along with old friends and family – were also there to celebrate Gail.  I know that I was.

All of us at WVFC send our love and appreciation to our friend Gail Sheehy as she continues this adventure, this journey towards what comes next.

Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.