Our Jenny, Jennifer Rittell, 27, passed away quietly, Thursday, May 2, in her long argument with muscular dystrophy. Now she is running through the fields!
Jen's ordeal with MD was more of a row than a fight because she knew the degenerative characteristics of the disease all too well. Informed of her condition when not yet ten, at the time an accomplished gymnast, she had a resignation that few of us could muster at any age. Yet Jen had this perpetual hope in sharing her passion for living and her extraordinary love of literature and people. Jen rarely used a swear word (if you excuse the many NAUGHTY emails she forwarded to her extensive address-book!!!) but often she told me, while tolerating the pain and discomfort -- in personifying her disease, she would tell 'IT' that 'IT' "Peed" her off no end... how it unpredictably and inconsiderately impeded her interaction with the many intellectual events in her young life and the social intercourse for which this young lady was prominent. To all of you who remember Jen as this popular TV personality (hey! -- 'guess Jerry Lewis is okay, but we want to see more of you, Jen, and Nancy Duffy!), you know what I mean!
Jen's particular form of MD, Friedrich's Ataxia, is suffered by one in ten million. Jen's philosophical outlook was always the power of positive thinking, "Thank you, Lord, because I like to think that I've enabled 9,999,999 others to have a fuller life".
How many of us remember Jen's sign-off on her (daily) emails:
Love, Jennifer "In spite of everything, I still believe, people are truly good at heart..." ~Anne Frank~
Jen would say this mimicking Einstein's, "God does not play dice with the universe", in the probability-way -- and the assurance -- that she looked upon both this life-to-the-fullest, and eternity. Jen was always quoting Einstein, and, following the inception of the Syracuse James Joyce Club, rarely did she not have a little Joycean anecdote she'd researched that wouldn't have you hysterically laughing at-and-with Jimmy, the lad himself. Jen's infectious laugh hid the secret of her quiet anguish which only her devoted parents, Joanne and John, and brother, Jeff, lovingly endured, everyday, in " ... grant me the wisdom to know the difference".
In reminiscing Jen's countless qualities, her heart, courage and intellect leap up like salmon eagerly trying to bite the myriad of raindrops tickling the fresh water surface on a spring day, thinking they are food for the ... soul. I first met Jen when Nancy Duffy invited me to present her as recipient of the (first) James Joyce Scholarship Award in 1994 at the St. Patrick's Day parade Emerald Gala Dinner at Hotel Syracuse. Immediately I was struck by the casual-intensity and zeal for life that this gifted 'youngster', then an honor student at Cayuga Community College, permeated so enthusiastically to all around her. Her acceptance speech included her recital of her then recently composed poem, The Rose, appended to the bottom of this letter. If first-impressions are indicative, I found a friend for life, and ... confidant, which is unusual for someone half your age!
As recently as two weeks ago Jen was asking for (yet) another book to read. I gave her "Mary Through The Centuries, a cultural history", as much in the scholarly curiosity as the spiritual. Jen loved to read. She loved company, to talk, to listen, to be challenged. She loved everyone and, incidentally, she loved ... Ireland. I'll miss her in Dublin next week as will all the lads and lasses who made her their own in perpetual friendship. We will all miss the vitality she brought to the Joyce Club, her gregarious charm, warmth, wit, stories, intellectual curiosity. Jennifer Rittell touched many of us in a way that opened a portal we would never have known, one we will always cherish, and having gone through it to have been enlightened.
As (my brother Aubrey's wife) Mary, in Dublin, would say when Jen had to depart, "Jen, we miss you ALREADY". And, as my wife, Dani, and son, Barry, frequently close, "With TONS of love, Jen, always, to ... our Rose of Tralee" (as Jen was a Syracuse finalist competing in the nationals in New York City):
Ultimately it is most apropos that in preparing for our 2004 Centennial Joyce Book, I had included the following poem in the chapter on "members-other-lives" ... composed by Jen ... in spite of her 'argument':
Jennifer L. Rittell, 27, of Fairmont, died Thursday (May 2nd, 2002). Born in Syracuse, she was a life resident of the Syracuse area. She graduated from Cayuga Community College. She was the Goodwill Ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. She was a communicant of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, a member of the James Joyce Literary Society and an advocate for the disabled for Catholic Charities. She was also the first disabled person to be a runner-up in the New York State Rose of Tralee Talent and Beauty Contest.
Survivors: Her parents John and Joanne Rittell of Fairmont, a brother Jefferey of Fairmont.
Services: Noon, Monday at Family Funeral Care. Burial, Onondaga County Veterans Memorial Cemetery, (plot I-4-40).
Contributions:The Jennifer Rittell Memorial Scholarship Fund, 500 Sidney Street, Syracuse, 13219
If you are a friend of Jenny's and wish to have digital copies of her pictures which appear here, place your cursor on the desired photo and right click to save the image to an appropriate folder on your hardrive. Some of the pictures are actually larger than they appear here.