PUBLISHED ONLINE Aug 6, 2013 | PUBLISHED IN PRINT Aug 14, 2013 |BY MADELYN WILS | On Monday August 5, two days after her 53rd birthday, my friend Lizzie died. Such a simple statement, yet in my life and others, an irreplaceable loss. Liz Berger was a relentless champion of Lower Manhattan, a loving mother, best friend to her husband Fred and a woman with grace, enormous intelligence, passion and a playful sense of humor, who embraced all within her sphere.
Yet Liz was so much more. Ten years ago she was afflicted with pancreatic cancer; a terminal disease with no mercy. After extreme intervention and a month in a coma, Lizzie miraculously came through and began the most extraordinary journey – one all her friends, family and those she touched found to be incredibly courageous and inspiring.
Liz managed to fight the demons of cancer into remission successfully over many years, while living a most productive and vital life. As a result, she taught us life’s most important lessons; cherish and make the most of each day, hour and minute; never take advantage of anything or anyone and love all those around you unconditionally. Facing each day, knowing that bad news could be around the corner at any moment, Liz planned for her family’s future, exulted in her children’s lives and beamed with unbearable joy, when her daughter Phoebe, and three years later her son Julian, became a Bar Mitzvah. Each year that passed was a blessing, as she spent quality time with her family and friends — and in turn, it was a gift to be around her.
During the last six years, Liz Berger gave her soul to her family, her friends and to the Downtown community. She brought new energy to the Downtown Alliance when the neighborhood was still struggling to regain its place after 9/11. Liz knew these struggles first hand living as she did across from the World Trade Center and having been displaced from her own home for months after that tragic day.
Her own personal experiences made her so effective and the perfect person to lead the organization, fighting every day for the community she loved. Liz’s indomitable spirit was contagious and she played a huge part in transforming Lower Manhattan into the vibrant neighborhood it is today. She succeeded in attracting new tech businesses Downtown and funding for transportation alternatives. In fact, up to the very last, Liz was advocating for the train to the plane from Newark to Lower Manhattan, a project she passionately believed in.
Last week in the hospital, Liz said that the last ten years was the best years of her life. In some ways I was startled, given her long battle with cancer, yet also understood what she meant. She cherished every day, loving every moment at her job, taking enormous pleasure in watching her children grow and sharing precious moments with her friends and family.
Liz lived a valiant life and for those of us who were lucky enough to be around her, she became our life coach. Through her illness and her fortitude, we learned life’s most important lessons and for that reason alone, we will never forget her.
Madelyn Wils is president and C.E.O. of the Hudson River Park Trust.