“We need to communicate more about death. It’s inevitable. So, the more we talk, the less scary it will be.”
So says alumna Linda Daly, CAS/BA ’90, about her book, The Last Pilgrimage: My Mother’s Life and Our Journey to Saying Goodbye, a celebration of the life of her mother, Nancy Daly, who was a prominent children’s advocate, philanthropist, and arts leader in Los Angeles. Their family lived what seemed a perfect life.
Nancy Daly was married to the head of Warner Brothers, Bob Daly, and following their divorce, became the ‘first lady’ of Los Angeles during her marriage to its former mayor, Dick Riordan. Her life seemed ideal until the day in 2006 when she received the diagnosis of stage four pancreatic cancer.
The Last Pilgrimage recounts Nancy’s courageous fight against an incurable illness. After receiving the best medical care, investigating every imaginable treatment option (even a faith healer), the story concludes with Nancy passing away during a cross-country journey home to Los Angeles in a rented RV with her children.
Linda wasn’t planning to write a book about her mother’s struggle with pancreatic cancer. “I originally thought I would just write all the details and save it for my kids so they could read it one day,” she said. “But once my editor at the Los Angeles Times Magazine got wind of me writing about it, she wanted to see it and told me it would be a fantastic book.”
Linda was a special education teacher for 10 years, a contributing editor to the now defunct Los Angeles Times Magazine, and she’s now a Los Angeles County Master Gardener, philanthropist, and founding board member of two charities: Vintage Hollywood and the Global Hunger Foundation.
According to Linda, one of the best parts of writing this book was “reminding ourselves of how strong our family is. We show up for each other when we need support.” On the other hand, Linda states that, “putting words to the emotions I felt” was one of the hardest parts of chronicling her mother’s story. “I was great about discussing which kind of coffee I got for everyone when we stopped at gas stations, but couldn’t put words to the emotions until my editor pushed me to dig deeper.”
When reflecting on her mother’s visits to AU during her freshman year, Linda jokingly says, “I think she was astounded that I actually kept my dorm room clean, since I was not in the habit of doing that at home.” While sharing aspects of her AU experience that have stuck with her since graduation, Linda recounts how grateful she was to her professors. “My favorite memories were when I took classes with Sally Smith and learned how to teach. She was such an inspiration and I think about her classes to this day,” Linda said.
Linda still returns to the AU campus at least once a year to visit friends in the area and a goddaughter who attends AU. She says, “The campus is so much more beautiful than it was when I was there, I would have a college do-over so I could experience it now!”
As Linda begins a book tour this month, she contemplates her mother’s reaction to the book: “Nancy would be thrilled that she was the subject of such a wacky tale. She would laugh at all the good parts and probably throw in some others that she observed and I didn’t. She had a very black sense of humor sometimes, and that got us through the worst of her cancer at times.”