Bob Williams Eulogy for Judy Heumann

Bob Williams, an older white man sitting in a wheelchair and wearing a yarmulke looks at the audience while presenting in front of a microphone. A speech generating device is in front of him. Two women rabbis sit behind him looking on.
Bob Williams delivering a eulogy at Judy Heumanns memorial service at the Adas Israel Congregation synagogue in Washington, DC, on March 8, 2023.

The following is the transcript of Bob Williams’ eulogy delivered at the March 8, 2023 memorial service for CommunicationFIRST’s late Board member Judy Heumann. The service was live-streamed by the Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC, and a captioned, ASL-interpreted recording can be viewed here. Bob’s eulogy begins at time-stamp 48:00 of the recording. CommunicationFIRST's separate tribute to Judy can be accessed here.

Good morning. I am Bob Williams. Jorge, Rick, Joey, and Judy’s entire family in the U.S. and Mexico, my heart goes out to you. So do the hearts of countless others literally all over the world. Let’s think about that for a second or two. When Franklin Roosevelt died in March 1945, a reporter saw a man crying on the street, and asked him why. And the man replied, “FDR was a friend of mine. We never met, but he knew me.”

Across the globe, millions feel the same way about Judy. She was known everywhere. Of course, she was not bashful about introducing herself. We would be rolling to the Metro after work, talking as we went. And, then, the next thing I knew, she was speeding down K Street, racing up to a guy in a chair who clearly had no clue what he was getting into. 

Whenever I had not heard from her in a while, I simply emailed or texted her, “Where in the world is Judy Heumann?” Which typically prompted an even more succinct reply.

Judy and I worked together in many different roles over the years. The most important of these has been being good friends. I am 10 years younger than Judy. But our lives and the times we came up in were remarkably similar. While our parents never met each other, they created the strongest of bonds between us. In the seemingly obvious ways, Ilse and Werner Heumann, and Bea and Bill Williams led separate lives in then vastly separate worlds. But, in ways that mattered most, our parents felt and acted as one. They realized, as the fox said to the Little Prince, “We see well only with our heart. The essential is invisible to the eye.”

Our parents, and those of many others, did not simply reject the so-called best professional advice, and the vile laws of the day. No. They did far more. They made damn certain we knew—and everyone else knew—we were loved, we were whole, that we had things to say which must be heard, people to meet, things to do, and communities and opportunities we had every right to access. They helped instill in us, knowingly or not, the sense that the justice we seek will only come about through our own making, our own taking. And our own hard work. 

We grew up during an era of extreme exclusion, segregation, and degradation. There was no way around it, or to escape all of the discriminatory and often hideous harm those times unleashed. But because of our parents, our families, and the civil rights and social justice movements going on around us, we increasingly realized we were not the problem. We were the people who had to drive the change, needed to solve the problem. 

I remember reading or hearing when I was in middle school how this group called Disabled In Action protested Nixon’s veto of the Rehabilitation Act just days before the 1972 elections. I thought that was hot shit. Judy only fairly recently told me the rest of the story, which is the group went to the wrong federal building and had to haul butt to the right building. Jim LeBrecht or someone might be able to correct or add to that. I still think it was a hot shit action. 

These sorts of influences drove and enlivened Judith E. Heumann beginning to end, and what made her the woman we celebrate today and will continue to love and emulate. 

Three Sundays ago, Kelly Buckland, Henry Claypool, and I spent the afternoon with her, in good company, good conversation, and cheer, talking about, well, all things being human. At one point, I sat back to enjoy the moment and remember all we have done and seen together. When I left, I told her I loved her and she replied in kind, as she always did, her eyes wide and dancing. 

Today is a day of sorrow and loss, and of great pride and joy in having known the likes of Judy. And, tomorrow? Well, tomorrow is a day of rededication and action. We love you, Judy. We always have, and we always will.

Bob Williams and Judy Heumann, sitting in their power wheelchairs, dance under purplish light on a conference dancefloor.
A slightly out-of-focus photo of Judy Heumann and Bob Williams dancing in their power wheelchairs on a conference dancefloor under purple light. Photo Credit: Cara Liebowitz