On October 23rd, I got an email informing me that Patti was in the hospital and wasn’t doing so well. At the time I received the email I was home alone trying to get some housework done. This news overly upset me. I mean, of course it’s always upsetting when someone you know is, in essence, dying. But the truth was, I had not seen Patti in over six years, and the one and only time I had a phone conversation with her was about three years ago.
Patti wasn’t a relative of mine or even what I would call a friend. She had been my teacher. For just one semester, in one class, at law school, I took Animal Law with Patti Bednarik and until recently I didn’t realize what a profound influence she had on me.
When I reflected on my time in her class and everything she had taught me, I started to understand why I was so upset. Patti taught me a lot about animal law. It’s interesting that animals occupy a unique place in our legal system. I learned about undercover “sting” operations that had taken place to catch dog fighters and about the idea of hunting feral cats in an effort to reduce the surplus population in certain states. But, what I learned the most from Patti was not what she had set out to teach me.
Growing up, I did not know a one lawyer. By the time I had entered law school, I had become acquainted with Attorney Stopp, from Steckel & Stopp in Slatington (through my work on Northern Lehigh’s School Board). But, otherwise, my real world views on attorneys were mostly being shaped by my professors at law school who were all members of the Bar. But, they were also all the same. They played the role of attorney very well and dressed and acted the part. Not that some of them weren’t also inspirational or amazing in their own right (off the top of my head, Professors Gilden and Pratt were engaging and dynamic teachers at Penn State Law). But Patti was NOTHING like them.
Most days in class Patti was dressed like a page from an L.L. Bean magazine. Casual and comfortable in a pair of khakis and a cotton blouse (at least this is how I remember her). She didn’t seem to ever wear much, if any, make-up and never spoke down to her students. Her class was interactive and comfortable and she seemed to embrace it if an open dialogue about animals kept us from finishing a slide show presentation.
One day, I remember her mentioning that she was a landlord and had rental properties but that she would only ever rent to pet-owners. She said that since there were very few landlords who would allow pets, she did not want to have one of her units occupied by a non-pet owner. I remember loving this thought… and the idea that she was so passionate about her love for animals amazed me. Everyone should have a passion in their life.
Patti was never blessed with children and her pets were her babies. She advocated for adopting rescue pets and hated the bad press pit bulls were getting. In 2000 she used her passion to start an Animal Law Committee at the Pennsylvania Bar Association. She chaired the Committee, it grew in size, and she is given credit for the fact that now most law schools in Pennsylvania offer an animal law class.
Sometimes lawyers, including the ones that are experienced enough to be law school professors, become jaded and cynical. They are rich and brilliant and look and act the part accordingly. Patti, for this small town girl who felt out of her element at law school, was a breath of fresh air. She taught me that I can use my degree to help people. That a “good lawyer” is not an oxymoron. She broke every stereotype people had taught me about attorneys, and I love that about her.
So yeah, I was upset when I heard Patti wasn’t doing so well. I knew she had been battling polycystic kidney disease for the last year and had recently undergone a kidney transplant surgery over the summer. But what I didn’t know was that two days after the transplant, she was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer. On October 26th, 2013, Patti passed away. I read that she did not ever complain about her illnesses and continued to be thankful, happy, optimistic, and live each day of her life to the fullest up until the end. I am truly blessed to have been taught by her and to have her as a role model of what a lawyer can be. A good, kind person, with a big heart and positive attitude who left the world much better than how she found it.
So, in honor of Patti, I’m asking you to reflect on that person who has influenced your life. Maybe thank them for their inspiration, and we should all work to try to be an inspiration to others. #InspiredByPatti.
Be happy. ~Angel