When Toni Morrison died last month, Alli Gerkman posted this Morrison quote on her Facebook page: “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”
If Alli believed language to be the measure of a life, then hers was a life exceptionally well lived. One need only look at the last post on her blog — a blog she ironically named Not Looking for Anything Long-Term, knowing that a rare form of breast cancer limited her own term.
“Life,” Alli wrote. “It’s the happy ending we all want.”
This week, Alli died, at the too-young age of 41, of the cancer she had fought for four years.
Alli was a lawyer and senior director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver. A key accomplishment of hers there was to launch Foundations for Practice, a first-of-its-kind effort to identify the competencies, skills, characteristics and qualities that new lawyers need to hit the ground running.
Earlier in her career, as manager of online content and development at the Colorado Bar Association, she created and managed www.cbaclelegalconnection.com, a source of legal information and education for Colorado lawyers that received the 2011 Professional Excellence award from the Association of Continuing Legal Education for use of technology in education.
Alli is one of those people who I cannot say exactly how or when we met, except that we came to know each other through blogging and social media. But I do remember the first time I met Alli face-to-face. I was in Denver for business and we met for lunch.
It was 2012, less than a year after Alli had joined IAALS. I remember how excited she was about the job and how passionate she seemed about the mission of the IAALS. I remember that she emanated vitality and enthusiasm and joy. And I remember leaving that lunch thinking, “This is a person who is going to do great things.”
That was just two years before her diagnosis. But she didn’t let cancer sidetrack her — at least not anymore than could be avoided by the toil of the disease and the treatment. She continued to work and volunteer and achieve. It was a career recognized earlier this year when the Colorado Women’s Bar Association gave Alli its Mary Lathrop Trailblazer Award, which honors “an outstanding female attorney who has enriched the community through her legal and civic activities.”
As she wrote on her blog: “Still, in between illness, pain, and even death, there is life. You would probably be surprised just how much living happens at the precipice of death.”
For me, the measure of a life is the people it touches and the positive effect it has on their lives. Alli touched many within the legal profession and was a positive force for change and improvement. She will be missed.