By Faye Girsh, San Diego.
When I became head of the national Hemlock Society in 1996 Lois Schafer was already there in our modest Denver office as a volunteer. I liked her quiet, unobtrusive, caring style. She was especially kind and gentle, but informative, to people who contacted us by phone. I offered her a paid position as director; she developed the relevant contacts from our chapter leaders all over the country, concentrating our efforts on the new Caring Friends Program using a non-medical, bedside model of providing information and support, to members with severe illnesses who contemplated hastening their deaths. Lois used her considerable organizational skills to screen volunteers and arrange the first training session for our new 28 volunteers, in 1998, who had come from all over the country.
Lois not only took all the calls, was the wizard of the fax machine, making sure everyone got their
evaluations back in time so we could let the callers know their status. If they were considered eligible for Caring Friends’ services she would find two volunteers, make the arrangements for them to visit the Member and send back the reports. The program increased our membership and our coffers, thanks to the unique services it offered, its sincere and well-trained volunteers, and to Lois (and
Dick MacDonald’s) compassionate presence. Lois organized the requests, kept in
contact with the volunteers, set up new training sessions, and provided relief from anxiety to so many people who inquired and used the Caring Friends Program.
In 2004 the Hemlock USA board decided to merge Hemlock with Compassion in Dying. The newly merged organization, now Compassion and Choices modified the Caring Friends program beyond recognition. The first casualty was the firing of Lois Schafer. Later the Final Exit Network was founded taking over the Caring Friends program. Lois, by that time and after a bout of serious rheumatoid arthritis and the death of her husband Jack did not continue with the new organization. But her systematic organizational skills were carried over to the new organization, now in its 15th very successful year. Without Lois at the helm in those formative years Final Exit Network would not be the unique and well-run organization it is now.
Lois was also my friend. She was as gentle, caring and intelligent in all her dealings as she was in the Hemlock office. A lifelong Universalist-Unitarian she participated in her church’s activities
wholeheartedly and was a the personification of its principals of community activism, compassion, and sensitivity to what others needed.
The fact that Colorado, the state Hemlock moved to in 1996 from its home in Eugene, Oregon, passed a medical aid in dying act in 2016 was in large part due to the active Colorado chapter where Lois came from and continued to be active. Lois Schafer was a special person. Hemlock was fortunate (“blessed” one might say) that she saw our mission as her own and represented us so elegantly.