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Farewell, Linda Fisher--A Nicer Neighborhood Awaits

February 13, 1991|DANA PARSONS

Thoughtful right to the very end about the problems she was causing others, Linda Fisher came up with the perfect solution.

She died.

Now the neighbors across the street can rest easy about all the problems Fisher's terminal cancer caused them as she lived virtually around-the-clock in a recreational vehicle parked in the driveway of her cousin's home in San Juan Capistrano. The neighbors, saying that Fisher wasn't entitled to special privileges, wanted the city to enforce an ordinance that prohibits people from living in RVs in certain neighborhoods.

Instead of telling the neighbors to stuff it, which it should have done in no uncertain terms, the city merely granted Fisher extensions, with the latest one set to expire in May.

Fisher, 41, expired first. Last Wednesday, after being hooked up to oxygen and an IV and taking morphine for the intense pain that she frequently experienced in her last months of life, Fisher lapsed into a coma and died quietly. As often happens, it came as blessed relief for those closest to her. The ovarian cancer first discovered 10 years ago had spread to her lymph system. In the last couple years, she had had seven major operations, including one that allowed her body wastes to be discharged into a plastic bag.

That sounds like a pretty undignified way to depart this earth. Not that Fisher ever was overly endowed with luck.

When she was 3, her leg was amputated after a farming accident in her native Wisconsin. By the time she was 16, her grandmother said Tuesday, she had had 14 operations on the leg. Her grandmother, Mae Folsom, said she remembers the time when Linda, then about 8, came over to her house after school, noticeably angry.

"I asked her what the matter was, and she said a boy had called her 'Peg leg,' " Folsom said. "I asked her what she did about it, and she said: 'I kicked him with it.' "

That's the way relatives and friends wanted to remember her. Aggressive, spirited, undaunted by adversity, accepting of her fate of a shortened life.

Jean Maxey, the cousin who had helped care for Fisher the last three years and in whose driveway the RV was parked, said one of Fisher's last goals was to set up a telephone hot line that terminally ill patients could call for personal sustenance.

It was reminiscent of her work in Wisconsin, where she had helped set up a center that provided counseling and therapy for amputees. She fought hard for rights for the handicapped in Wisconsin before moving to California about 15 years ago and would have fought San Juan Capistrano City Hall over the RV controversy if she had the strength, friends said.

Although some of her friends have a hard time forgiving the neighbors for what they saw as callousness, they probably know that Fisher wouldn't want to be remembered just as a principal in a municipal dispute over an RV. Even while alive, Fisher thought that the dispute diminished and degraded her, relatives said, because it publicized her plight and she was so helpless to do anything about it. It got to the point where people would drive by the house to get a look at her in the RV.

Rest easy, Linda. I think you'd be pleased at the way you were remembered Tuesday.

About 50 of your friends gathered in St. Catherine Catholic Church in Laguna Beach, sharing quiet conversations about you after being led through an upbeat funeral service by your personal choice as priest, Father Fabian Richards. He was true to your spirit, never downbeat, and pictured you in your final resting place looking back on a life of tribulation but in the end saying, "Yes, it was worth it."

I never knew Linda Fisher, but I hope for her sake, it was worth it. Maybe it would make her feel good to know that they held her funeral on a gorgeous day, with the breeze stirring the leaves in the trees. From the steps of the church, everyone could look out over the waters of the Pacific. It was a magnificent view of the great beyond, tranquil and reassuring, and one could almost picture it as a long-overdue gift in death to someone who had too many battles to fight in life.

And later, back at the Maxey house where friends gathered after the funeral for a barbecue, the RV that so irritated the neighbors still stood in the driveway, now looking like the thousands of others that dot Orange County neighborhoods.

Except that on this bright sunny day, it stood empty for the first time in a long time, adorned only with a banner that said, "Farewell, Linda, Farewell."

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