For Immediate Release, Friday, 24 January, 2009
Date: 23 January, 2009
I have been informed that Marcelon (Marce) Johnson died on 01/21/2009, was cremated, and not cryopreserved.
I understand this information may come as a surprise and as a disturbing shock to many people, especially those who loved and knew Marce, as I did. I thus feel an obligation to explain how this happened and to provide some closure to this story for the many people who helped, or tried to help, avert this catastrophe.
While Marce was alive I was unable to share the full story of what was happening. Now that she is dead and gone I believe it important and the responsible thing to do to relate the story as best I know it.
I do not have access to my records here, so dates precise dates will be missing or supplied later in an amended account (if there is any interest).
A Brief History
Early in January of 1964 a 35-year-old Huntington Beach, California housewife named Marcelon Johnson finished filling out her cryonics paperwork, paid her first cryonic society dues, and dropped her application for a Medic-Alert bracelet in the mail. She had six children and a busy, happy, life which has just gotten better because she now believed, for the first time, that she might never have to die. She had been haunted by the death of her mother who was in her mid-50s when she succumbed to Alzheimers disease. She did not want to die that way, or any other way, for that matter.
Within a year Marcelon Johnson, or Marce as was known to her friends, would become increasingly involved in cryonics. By March of 1967, 3 months after Dr. Bedford began the journey which he continues to this day, Marce Johnson was the Secretary-Treasurer of the Cryonics Society of California (CSC). She opened her home to cryonics meetings and catered them superbly. She answered countless information requests and filled countless orders for books and literature. On October 11, 1974 Marce reluctantly accepted the Presidency of CSC, not suspecting that she had stepped into a nightmare that would go on for almost eight years. Russ Stanley, who had welcomed Marce to her first cryonics meeting on September 30th in 1966, had been frozen (or so it seemed) for 6 years. Two of the other pioneering CSC members whom she had met and befriended were also (presumed) in cryonic suspension at CSCs Cryonic Interment Facility in Chatsworth, CA.
In the 45 years was actively involved in cryonics I have never heard anyone say a bad thing about Marce Johnson. That was an extraordinary achievement for anyone involved in cryonics, but it was made all the more extraordinary by the fact that Marce was the de facto President of CSC when it came to light in 1979 that all of the patients in the Chatsworth facility had been allowed to thaw and decompose. No, Marce had no complicity in that horror beyond that of being loyal and trusting. The very qualities that made Marce an exceptional human beig: her readiness to help, her willingness to trust the words of a friend and colleague, and her quiet and nearly unshakeable loyalty had set her up to be in the crosshairs of the litigation and enmity that followed.
The very public disintegration of CSC was not only financially costly to Marce and her husband Walt (not to mention their 6 children), it was a deep personal humiliation and loss. Three of the people who had welcomed her into cryonics were now gone lost to a gruesome and disgraceful fate. There was no immortality for them; in fact, there was not even the dignity of a decent burial. Many of the people who were cohorts of Marce at that time walked away from cryonics and never looked back and most of them are dead now, or are beyond help in nursing homes, or dependent upon their indifferent children. I have watched as those who died passed, and I have spoken with those who remain, helpless and dying. Chatsworth was not a pretty business.
Marce Johnson did not walk away. She joined Alcor, and at a very bad time for Alcor in 1981. Over the next ten years Marce hosted more Alcor meetings than anyone else has before or since. She and her husband Walt were a dependable source of contributions, and Marce would often make the 2 hour drive (each way) from Huntington Beach to Fullerton to help with various volunteer activities at Alcor. Her gentle, intellectual decency served as a welcome beacon of normality and warmth at cryonics get-togethers that were often marred by partisanship and extremes. Marces home was one of the least conveniently located in Southern California, but the meetings she hosted there were among the best attended.
In 1985 Alcor faced a seemingly insurmountable crisis. For 7 years Alcor had been the guest of Cryovita Laboratories in Fullerton, California. Cryovita was the creation of cryonics pioneer Jerry Leaf and it was a costly drain on Jerry and his family. Jerry not only paid the rent on the facility in Fullerton, he covered all the other operating expenses out of his pocket, including the liability insurance required by the landlord. In the early 1980s the explosion of litigation in California and elsewhere resulted in skyrocketing premiums for basic business liability coverage. By 1985 coverage at any price was no longer available for businesses with a high, or impossible to estimate degree of risk. Alcor, and thus Cryovita, became uninsurable and with that came the inevitable edict from the landlord to vacate the premises.
With the help of a long-time friend of Alcor, Reg Thatcher, a potential solution was identified. A small park of industrial buildings was going to be built in nearby Riverside, California with completion expected in about 10 months. We negotiated with the landlord and began trying to raise the impossible sum of $150,000 plus closing and other costs. We had from April 4th to June 20th, 1986 to do just that a little over two months. At $149,000 we stalled out. All the deep pockets had been tapped and the Life Extension Foundation was locked in a battle with the FDA for its survival, as well as for the personal freedom of Saul Kent and Bill Falloon, both of whom faced decades in prison. Alcor had approximately 100 members in 1986, and finding the additional $5,000 in cash required to cover the closing costs appeared hopeless. As it was, an additional $37,500 had already been pledged to cover the 2-year note carried by the developer. When Marce heard of this situation she quietly opened her and Walts check book and wrote out a check for $5,000.
In the years that followed, Marce was always there for cryonics and it wasnt easy. She and Walt had had to buy life insurance late in life and the premiums were punishing, even for neuro. Sometime around 1997 Marce asked me to meet her for lunch in Huntington Beach. That was an unusual request, but one which I was happy to oblige. It was an unexpectedly emotional and difficult meeting. As we sat in a little Italian restaurant in an anonymous strip mall Marce repeated the story of her mothers death and asked me to promise that I would not abandon her should such a fate befall her. She told me a number of deeply personal things and she asked me to dispose of some unfinished business should I outlive her. It was easy to say yes. Marce was healthy and had every prospect of living many years longer in good health. It takes extraordinary courage to confront not only your own mortality, but also the prospect of closing your life in the darkness of dementia. Nothing in my experience of Marce as a relentlessly positive and optimistic person had prepared me for that meeting.
In 2001 I was alerted by Joan OFarrel of Critical Care Research that Marce seemed both forgetful and inappropriate on the phone (Marce was, as usual, doing volunteer work, this time for Critical Care Research (CCR) and 21st Century Medicine). A call to Walt confirmed Joans suspicions and shortly thereafter Dr. Steve Harris and I visited Marce. Steve did a thorough exam, including an assessment for Alzheimers. Marce did well on this assessment, but Steve suggested she go to the Memory Clinic at UCLA for a more comprehensive evaluation. I tried to call Walt and Marce over the following 2 years and always ended up getting Marces voice on their answering machine. Finally, in 2003 Walt picked up the phone and we talked. I learned that Marce had been placed in a nursing home some months prior, and that she had moderately advanced Alzheimers.
That news was devastating enough, but what followed shook me to the core of my being. Walt told me that Marce no longer had cryonics arrangements and that she was to be cremated. I visited Marce twice in the subsequent months and found her still oriented enough to recognize me and carry on a very basic conversation. From these two visits I learned that Marce still believed she was going to be cryopreserved and that she felt that she had done something wrong, perhaps by getting sick, which had caused her cryonics friends to stop coming to see her. I learned that Saul Kent had been down to see her and Walt and to try to get Walt to reinstate Marces arrangements, but to no avail. Walt had never been a cryonicist and his concern was, understandably, with ensuring that Marce got top quality nursing home care. Walt and Marce were confronted with spend down in the face of monthly nursing home bills of over $5,000. Medicare does not begin to cover these expenses until the patient has $2,000 or less in total assets not even enough for burial. Marces and Walts cryonics insurance policies had been cashed-out and used for her nursing home care.
In the six years that have come and gone since then a number of people have continued to try to find some way to rescue Marce from this situation. Marce did everything right, everything that cryonics organizations asked her to do, including giving them ownership of her policy. Unfortunately, Marce fell ill just as CryoCare was closing down and she never had the opportunity to transfer her arrangements to the Cryonics Institute, or Alcor.
Dave Pizer of the Venturists stepped forward to organize a fund raising effort for Marce. Dave believed, as I did, that the primary obstacle to getting Marce cryopreservation arrangements was money, not any unwillingness on Walts part. days ago Walt confirmed this by consenting to have Marce cryopreserved at CI when the time comes. CI graciously agreed to accept Marce as a member and her future now rests on the ability of the Venturists to raise the $35,000 required to cover CIs costs and to transport Marce to CI from Southern California.
The Rest of the Story
Unfortunately, shortly after the appeal for Marce detailed above was launched, Walt retracted his offer of cooperation and support. When Walt and I spoke about the efforts on Marces behalf he was warm, gracious, and cooperative. Because of the criticality of the matter (Marces potential life or death) I did something I have done only a few times in my adult life: I recorded the conversation between Walt and I without his knowledge. This was a legally permissible action since the call (on my end) was made in Arizona, which has no law prohibiting such recording. When I subsequently called Walt (about 2-weeks later) to set up arrangements for him to sign the CI paperwork in the presence of a notary (Walt had suggested that we do this at his bank, a branch of which was located just around the corner form his home) Walt stated he had changed his mind and that he had decided that Marce should not be cryopreserved and instead would be cremated, in keeping with his, and the rest of her familys wishes. To say that I was both stunned and unprepared for this turn events was an understatement. When I asked to meet with Walt and other concerned members of the family, Walt said that, he had said all he had to say and hung up on me.
After lengthily consultation with Saul Kent, Dave Pizer, and a prominent scientist and cryonicist close to Marce and Walt (including playing the tape recording of the conversation between Walt and I), a decision was made to do the following things:
1) Attempt to arrange a meeting with Walt between Saul Kent and the cryonicist/scientist who had known Marce and Walt since his teenage years in Southern California and who could argue both scientifically, and on the basis of personal knowledge, that cryopreservation was warranted in Marces case and in her condition of advanced Alzheimers disease.
2) Contact Marces most influential (and sympathetic to cryonics) daughter and speak with her in detail about the situation and, if possible, enlist her support in the effort to change Walts decision.
3) No attempt would be made to use the court system or other legal coercive mechanisms to challenge Walts or the familys decision in this matter. Since both Marces husband, her many children, and her other relatives were not supportive of cryonics or were opposed, it was deemed by Saul Kent, and Dave Pizer, that litigation would prove not only fruitless, but possibly counterproductive.
4) Considerations in making the decision not to take coercive action(s) were that Walt was himself dying (he is currently in hospice care) raising the possibility that he might not outlive Marce opening another opportunity to revisit the matter with her children. Other considerations were that there was no funding for such an effort and approaches to several attorneys who might work pro bono (or provide advice gratis), yielded no offers of help and the uniform opinion that litigation would be unsuccessful and costly. [ It probably also should be noted that one similar such effort in the past proved a financially costly failure.]
Saul Kent argued that public disclosure of this turn of events would damage the fundraising effort for Marce and that the most conservative course of action was to proceed with efforts to rescue her until all hope was gone; in other words until she was dead and disposition was completed. Most involved agreed that this was the most conservative course of action to pursue.
This sad outcome has now been realized.
My own heartbreak knowns no words, and although I expected this outcome for many months, it is still difficult to bear.
Marce lived her life without bitterness or anger, and with malice towards none. Those who knew her will understand this and will hopefully also understand that I honor her here by saying simply that I will miss her and that, as is the case with so many others Ive loved and lost, I will neither forget, nor stop looking for ways, however remote in possibility or in time, to somehow recover her.
Information for Contributors
For those who contributed to the effort to help Marce, please contact the Society for Venturism c/o Dave Pizer: firstname.lastname@example.org or at:
C/O The Creekside Lodge
11255 State Route 69
Mayer Arizona 86333
for information on how to obtain a refund of your contribution, or to reassign it for use by Bill O’Right’s.