The tale of the remarkable Glynda Stewart and how she might still be here today if she had health insurance

The tale of the remarkable Glynda Stewart and how she might still be here today if she had health insurance
Glynda Stewart dons a pink hat in the 1980s. She appears with friend and colleague, Chris Haxager, in a Parisian hat shop.

Glynda Stewart died in 2006, but, lately, she's been on my mind a lot. Maybe it was because her birthday just passed.

Maybe it's because it's summertime, which was always a fun time to hang around with her. Any warm weekend, you could count on her to say yes to garage saling, festivals or flea markets.

But it might be because every time Trump rants about getting rid of Obamacare I think about my friend Glynda and how maybe she'd still be here today if she'd only had had health insurance.

Now seems like the right time to tell you about her.

I met Glynda in the late 1970s at Lee King & Partners, the ad agency where I snagged my first gig as a copywriter. Even among the cast of creative, Madmen-ish characters who worked there, Glynda stood out as a multi-talented art director. But she was so much more.

She was a fabulous cook, seamstress, jewelry maker, costume maker, gardener, party planner and interior decorator.

A turquoise bracelet Glynda made and gave to me. It spells out the word "forever."

A turquoise beaded bracelet Glynda made and gave me. It spells out the word "forever." She also gave me handmade earrings and pins.

She decorated several apartments on the north side of Chicago, and later, her darling Cape Cod house in Riverside, from top to bottom with, well, stuff. And more stuff. (Minimalism was not her thing. She shunned it like nudists shun pants.)

Still, she turned every one of those places into a showcase as intriguing as it was warm and inviting. HG-TV will never know what it missed. 

Glynda was also a DIY-er before the term was invented. My favorite piece of hers was a large rectangular mirror she framed with hundreds of seashells. She also hand-painted everything from t-shirts to reading glasses, adorning them in whimsical glory and selling them at craft fairs or giving them away to friends.

In addition, she was an engaging storyteller and a caring and enthusiastic single mom (by choice) to her son Sam.

Glynda was fun, funny, kooky, brave, blond, beautiful, independent, smart, sexy, uniquely stylish, sweet, generous, loving, somewhat eccentric and someone you could count on to be up for an adventure--be it a local one or a European trek.

Glynda was fun and funny. Here she is at her friend Joyce Smith's birthday party.

Glynda was fun and funny. Here she is at her friend Joyce Smith's birthday party.

She also had an endearing bawdy side, and while it would make a more entertaining story to include specifics, I won't. It would be disloyal too do so without her permission.

Did I mention Glynda had a great laugh? OK, maybe it was a bit cackling, but it was infectious. I can hear it in my mind to this day.

Glynda was from Little Rock, Arkansas. She had a slight drawl and oozed Southern charm, inserting the phrase (word?) "y'all"  into most of her conversations. 

She was raised a Baptist but rejected much of the dogma after the minister at her church told her that her dad was going to go to hell because he didn't attend services. Glynda wasn't buying it.

Despite her strict upbringing, she was a woman who thought for herself--always evolving, always open to new  ideas. She voted for Ross Perot in 1992. She had her reasons.

Glynda, along with then copywriter Chris Haxager (who would go on to have a long and successful career at Leo Burnett), worked for an array of clients at Lee King such as Alberto-Culver and WLS Radio. Among their work together was a TV commercial that starred Larry Lujack and Rodney Dangerfield. 

Around 1983, Glynda landed a job at Frankel and Company, where she was one of the key creative forces behind McDonald's iconic Happy Meals. She designed the boxes, created the games that appeared on them and even designed some of the toys that kids coveted more than the burger and fries.

(The boxes and toys were often intricate works of art. Some of them are  collectible today.)

She stayed at Frankel almost 20 years and then began freelancing. The only problem was that after her COBRA insurance ran out, she didn't qualify for health insurance. These were the days before Obamacare, and Glynda had pre-existing conditions (She was a breast cancer survivor and had diabetes.).

Still, everything went smoothly for a while, but some of her friends (and even Glynda herself), began to notice something wasn't quite right with her. 

One of her close pals, Joyce Smith, remembers Glynda crying, distraught because she couldn't keep her client billing straight. At a dinner I attended and Glynda hosted, she seemed to forget to serve the meal. We didn't begin eating until 10:30 in the evening.

Her friends--including me--worried that she might have early onset Alzheimer's disease. Joyce and another friend, Mary Horstman, accompanied Glynda to see a doctor. But because she had no health insurance, she didn't follow through with the expensive tests the doctor ordered.

Glynda had long toyed with the idea of living in Asheville, North Carolina and during this tumultuous time, she managed to drive across the country and move into a home she bought there. But within a few months, she experienced a series of falls. A neighbor found Glynda outside unconscious after one of them.

Rushed to the emergency room, she was eventually diagnosed with lung cancer which had metastasized to her brain. She was placed in an assisted living facility and died within weeks.

We'll never know for sure if her cancer was curable, but I am convinced her life would have been extended (and certainly made more comfortable --both emotionally and physically) if the disease had been caught earlier. If she had had health insurance.

In 2016, there were 27 million Americans without health insurance, according to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune. Some of them--including Illinoisans, have had to turn to GoFundMe campaigns to pay for doctor visits, surgeries and tests for their loved ones.

Trump can talk and tweet till the cows come home about how horrible Obamacare is. All I know is that it's disgraceful that people living in a country as rich and wonderful as ours might have to go without care because they don't have health insurance.

If only Glynda had been properly insured. Maybe then I'd be still be hearing her lovely, infectious, cackling laugh.


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    A beautiful piece about a beautiful person. I wish I knew her. So sad, nobody in America should have to be at risk because of that,---I find it ironic that she moved to Asheville. I was just there a few days ago. I could see why it was a destination for her. The Biltmore House built by the Vanderbilts ,a stunning place to see for an Artsy person, such as her. It features the works of the great Chihuly the world renowned "Glass Artist,and much much more." Thanks for telling us about this wonderful person. We should all have been so lucky to know her.

  • In reply to Bob Angone:

    I'm so glad you "get" my love for her and my sadness that she's gone. You are exactly right about Asheville, Bob!

  • Oh, Judy. This broke my heart. You portrayed Glynda beautifully, as an almost-mythic creature of fun and achievement! How awful that she met such a sad end.

    Here's why her situation is even more egregious - from, 7/25/17 - regarding Congressional members' healthcare:

    "As the myth busting website Snopes points out, 'contrary to popular belief, Congressional members do not receive free health care.' Instead, they choose a gold-level Obamacare policy and receive federal subsidies that cover 72 percent of the cost of the premiums.

    In short, Snopes reports that members of Congress and staff 'pay approximately 28 percent of their annual healthcare premiums through pre-tax payroll deductions.' They also have access to 'free or low-cost care' through the Office of the Attending Physician as well as 'free medical outpatient care at military facilities' in the D.C. area.

    That's a pretty good deal, especially given that the average 21-year-old making $25,000 a year would be charged $282 per month for a silver Obamacare plan, and pay about half of that, or $142, thanks to subsidies, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation."

    Them that's got shall get ..... while we, their constituents, suffer.

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