Chatham, New York
31 August 2019 03:52PM
Enid Futterman

Judy’s death at midnight last night was so shocking it seemed to have occurred suddenly, although she had been ill for months. For most of those months she told no one but her dear friend and assistant, Alice Witherell, and her Bennington College roommate, our mutual dear friend Toby Rafelson, who said nothing about Judy’s illness to me until a week or so ago.

I think it would have felt sudden and shocking even with time to prepare. Despite the fact that she was well into her ninth decade, Judy never got old. She just got sick. And until then, she had the energy of a three-year-old girl and a seventeen-year-old boy, combined.

Judy’s energy was visible, palpable, remarkable; it exuded from her being and would have been extraordinary for someone of any age. She never seemed to stop moving, or talking, often at the same time. My partner, John Isaacs, and I would marvel at it whenever we saw her and were convinced she would literally never stop. She never retired and we were sure she never would.

Judith Backer Grunberg was the oldest of the newcomers. Judy and her husband Paul emigrated to Columbia County as expatriate New Yorkers in the 60s, long before it was fashionable. Judy was an artist and a mother. Judy and Paul’s three sons went to Chatham public schools, and though I came in in the late middle of this movie, as the children grew up and away and Paul died (nearly two decades ago), I watched Judy produce a formidable body of work that included textile design, woodcuts, photographs, graphics, painting, much of it shown in retrospective at TSL in June of 2015, where I shot the above photo.

But she also became an unstoppable force in Chatham. A may-the-force-be-with-you force. The force behind a restaurant, a natural food store, a used-clothing store, and best of all a miraculous theater in an apple orchard.

Judy was Chatham’s most generous, creative, energetic, productive citizen. She bought The Blue Plate and gave it another life. She was co-founder of Chatham Real Food Co-op. She helped save the beloved Crandell Theater and continued to support it and its festival, FilmColumbia. She opened a second-hand clothing store called Re-wraps to support her most wonderful gift, not only to Chatham, but to all of Columbia County—PS21 (Performance Spaces for the 21st Century, in case you didn’t know), now a stunningly beautiful, state-of-the-art functional, and magically convertible theater. It goes inside when it gets cold outside.

But Judy supported and participated in causes and initiatives all over the county. She was a board member of Friends of Hudson in the thick of the six-year fight against the threat of a massive coal-fired cement plant looming over Hudson, and a pivotal board member of CLC, TSL, WAMC, and who knows how many other acronyms.

The last time I was in that exalted and exhilarating space was also the last time I saw Judy, only four weeks ago. She gave a variation on her usual before-the-curtain speech, in a less physically and emotionally animated state than usual. I thought maybe she had decided that the new theater called for a different demeanor. I also thought she looked rather beautiful. I now know that it was because she was thinner and it made her face look elegant. We chatted about Toby’s upcoming visit, the extensive search for Executive Director Elena Siyanko, but not a mention of her illness.

It was only in the last year or two that Judy returned to Manhattan where she grew up, as a weekender in reverse. She loved her little Greenwich Village flat and even made art there, which became half of a TSL show of photographs of passersby her ground-floor window. The other half were images of other kinds of passersby, birds flying past her house here at home. Two expressions of the same singular vision.

Everything Judy made and did was an expression of her sometimes quirky, often expansive, always deeply generous vision. She didn’t shout about what she accomplished; she just did it, because she cared and because she could. She was one of a very special kind, and I don’t think they’re making any more like her.

May the force go with you, Judy.

Processing your request, Please wait....


Paul Spencer
Paul Spencer 4 September 2019 09:08AM

Thank you, Enid, for that lovely appreciation of Hurricane Judy (raining love and creativity down on Columbia County and beyond). I hadn’t seen Judy in a couple years but I feel her loss profoundly. She leaves a void in our little corner of the universe that won’t be filled anytime soon.

I met and got to know Judy when we served on the board of the Columbia Land Conservancy together, another cause she devoted herself to with energy, love, and, always, generosity. (I don’t know anyone who made better use of her money than Judy.) Her connection to CLC goes unmentioned in most of the tributes I’ve seen, but it was profound and powerful. She helped shape the organization in ways that to this day sets it apart from other land trusts. She was a powerful ally of Judy Anderson, the CLC director who’s vision went beyond that of most such organizations–often accused, and often legitimately, of focusing primarily on protecting the views of rich weekenders. The Judys, by creating numerous public conservation areas and devoting resources toward keeping farmland (and farmers) in farming, fulfilled a vision of protecting land for everyone, not just for the rich. That vision lives on today–and has grown apace–in everything CLC does. Every day. We should all give thanks to Judy (and Judy) for what they’ve given us, something we can appreciate every time we drive along those beautiful (and curvy) Columbia County roads.

That’s the thing about Judy Grunberg; she had a hand in so many things–CLC, PS21, WAMC, Jacob’s Pillow, The Crandell, to name but a few–that it’s only now, with her passing, that we’re just starting to see the scope of it.

It’s amazing what one woman could do for so many. And do it with such love, such joy, such fun and laughter. It’s hard not to believe that energy source, like that of a star turned supernova, isn’t rippling across the Universe at this very moment. Keep an eye on the night sky over Columbia County.

Kate McLeod
Kate McLeod 3 September 2019 03:43PM

How wonderful to have lived your life as a force for good and for the arts. Judy’s spirit cannot be dampened. She lives on.

Rae Gilson 3 September 2019 03:26PM

THank you Enid, for a wonderful series of vibrant memories, which enliven all of ours and thank you Cathy for a beautiful insight into the core of Judy’s driving force, to make our own piece of the world a tiny-weeny bit better and have a good time while doing it with be people you love. That could become the motto of Chatham. Let’s keep sharing more Judy-isms, we will all be richer keeping her spirit with us. May she know peace in the same depth she spread goodness.
Rae Gilson

Cathy Grier aka NYCSubwayGirl
Cathy Grier aka NYCSubwayGirl 1 September 2019 05:38PM

Thank you Enid, and with such a perfect image of Judy that you captured. She
was indeed a force to our Community and to all who knew her. I filmed her for my Inspiration Project, in it she says so succinctly and without pause, “…try to make your own little world a teeny, weeny bit better, and have a good time while you’re doing it, and doing it with people you love.”
Here’s the clip.
She will not be forgotten,
Cathy Grier


You need to log in to vote

The blog owner requires users to be logged in to be able to vote for this post.

Alternatively, if you do not have an account yet you can create one here.

Powered by Vote It Up

We would like to collect information during your visit to help us better understand site use. This data is anonymized, and will not be used for marketing purposes. Read More on our Privacy Policy page.
You can withdraw permission at any time or update your privacy settings here. Please choose below to continue.