By Michele Mitchell, October 13, 2014
"Look, my love, don't be a dumbass: Tell a good story." Or insert any number of pieces of wisdom dropped by Valerie Baerlocher over the near-decade that I knew her. It seems impossible that I knew her that long, or, now that she has passed away, that short. It also seems impossible that I won't hear her call out, "Hey cutie!" while, I just knew, tooling down PCH in her red convertible. Valerie always drove a red car.
She was the very unusual combination of business savvy--she had been a top salesperson for Xerox when very few women were salespeople--and kindness. When she helped us start Film at Eleven, it was because she wanted to "change things" through media, getting people to look unflinchingly at the bad while considering how they could, in turn, do good. There were no barriers, in her eyes, just opportunities to figure out positive solutions.
That made her flat-out fun to work with, and--I am pretty sure--made her the physical incarnation of the phrase "a blast to hang out with." She out-danced, out-champagned, out-lasted everyone. She adored life. She made everyone around her adore life.
And that's why, when she was first diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in 2007, she fought so hard. She showed up for chemo and radiation in her red leather pantsuit. She told me what a nice bald head she had. She always wore make-up and had a perfect mani/pedi, and the nurses always commented on her shoes. And when she beat cancer, instead of maybe taking a relaxing trip to, oh, say, anywhere, she ran the New York City Marathon. And finished.
About a year ago, the cancer returned. Val dug in. She wrote to me in June, when she was having trouble speaking:
She did exactly that. If you put her name into Facebook, you will see all the photos and comments by friends, family and colleagues, all of whom comment on her vast resources of love and unselfishness. I wrote that she taught me how to live--and she did. No matter what happened to her, she never complained. She always smiled. I think I saw her cry just once.
When I saw her about a week ago, she said to me with a glint, "You know, I'll still be around."
"You're too stubborn to go away," I said. And she threw her head back and laughed.
Her amazing family, who were always her first priority, and friends are celebrating today--in BRIGHT COLORS NO BLACK--with karaoke, tequila and champagne. Because Val wanted a disco party. Of course.