REMEMBERING DARLENE ARDEN
It has taken me quite a while to put my thoughts together and write something about Darlene Arden, who recently passed away. Although not a member at the time of her death, Darlene was a longtime supporter and member of the CWA, a Charter Member, and served in many capacities through the years. As a volunteer, she coordinated the agent/editor appointments several years in a row. As a professional member, she spoke at our conference events and frequently moderated panels. Darlene served on the Council and was a mentor to many new members–as well as experienced ones.
Quietly behind the scenes, and without fanfare, she championed good writing about cats and dogs, and the people who shared her passion. In 2013, Darlene received the Shojai Mentor Award–but she never mentored for the attention or accolades. I know the award caught her by surprise, and I hope she treasured it as much as those who received her support and advice.
She believed in helping others achieve their dreams. In the early years of CWA, Darlene was not only a trusted confident, and guiding light for CWA, she was a treasured friend.
DISCOVERING DARLENE–A FRIENDSHIP IS BORN
I met Darlene at a Dog Writers’ Association of America awards banquet back in 1993–where I also met (and roomed with) Cheryl Smith, another one-time CWA mover-and-shaker who has passed on far too early. The three of us became fast friends, never mind that Cheryl lived in the Pacific Northwest, Darlene in Boston and me in Texas. We were all passionate about pets, and writing. I convinced both of these award-winning dog writers to join CWA–it took a bit of wranging for them to write “cat copy” and qualify–and they jumped in and adopted the organization with enthusiasm.
Besides, Darlene and I had other things in common. We were both actors. She was a dancer (I tried), and we both were singers. She had been a coloratura soprano (that’s the highest of the high opera range) before dedicating her work to the written word. Our round-robin-email-exchanges were spicy, hilarious and supportive.
When I met her, Darlene lived with Ebeneezer (Neezie), a gorgeous Yorkshire Terrier show dog she described as a “toddler looking for the zipper in his dog suit.” It took her years after his passing to bring herself to adopt another fur-kid. Even then, she thought beyond herself and set out to find a companion her beloved mother would also adore. I was there when Darlene met her sweet Chartreux cat Aimee for the first time, in a hotel room during the CWA conference event held in conjunction with the CFA show….In Houston, I believe. Darlene went on to become a certified animal behavior consultant for both dogs AND cats, and who knows how many pet lives and relationships she saved.
THE EPITOME OF MENTOR
It wasn’t only strangers and new acquaintances she helped. Darlene was equally generous with her “chosen family” of close friends. When CWA member and good friend Kari Winters died, Darlene led the charge and secured a memorial contest special award in her honor that continues today. That same year, she accepted a posthumous award on Kari’s behalf (see picture above).
Darlene knew and was respected by veterinarians all over the world, who she interviewed for print or media stories throughout her career. For example, when many speakers for Tufts Animal Expo (an October event) cancelled attendance right after the September 11th attack, Darlene reached out to Tufts organizers. She recommended a number of last-minute fill in speakers. That’s how Cheryl, Darlene and I (and I don’t know how many others) ended up presenting at this prestigious event. That was Darlene.
Her biting wit and take-no-prisoner opinions were also Darlene. She demanded respect and accepted nothing less and had little patience with “good enough” — it had to be the same high standard to which she held herself. She could cut with the written word in oh-so-politely phrased sentences more deeply than anyone I know, but she reserved this for when she felt her cause was just. Darlene was champion of the underdog (and cat). Even when we disagreed, which happened more often in later years, I always respected her for that.
Different people adapt to change more easily than others. Darlene’s vision of right and wrong never wavered. Her personal ethics ruled her life. While she was an “early adopter” of some kinds of social media (Darlene RULED Facebook and Twitter!) other changes–particularly to publishing and blurred lines defining blogging/reporting–weren’t as easily accepted. I know that was very difficult for her these past several years.
Darlene Arden was one of a kind. CWA wouldn’t be what it is today without her valued guidance and support. I will deeply miss the friendship we shared and talented woman I knew.