Class Notes & Profiles

Carrying a Torch

By Samantha Soper '91

On January 16, 2002, Judith Allerhand Willis ’71 performed the duties of an official Olympic Torch Bearer by carrying the torch through her hometown of Santa Barbara, California, en route to its destination of Salt Lake City to open the Winter 2002 Games. “That was one of the most memorable days of my life,” said Willis. “A close second was the day I received my letter of admission to Vassar College on April 15, 1967.”

After Vassar, Willis went on to a career as a neurologist in Santa Barbara. For 15 years, she was devoted to her patients. But when retaining the special personal connection with patients became harder and harder due to changes in insurance regulations and the medical industry itself, Willis became frustrated. After she and her husband adopted a little girl from Korea, Willis started focusing her energy on volunteering at her daughter’s school and rediscovering those lost personal connections. In his Olympic Torch Bearer nominating letter, Willis’ husband Paul wrote, “My wife made an amazing sacrifice, relinquishing her high-paying, high-status career as a physician to enroll at the University of California, Santa Barbara to get a teaching credential and a master’s of education degree.” But it was yet another challenge that lay ahead that astonished Willis’ husband even more. Only two days after a total hysterectomy, Willis resumed her commitment to physical fitness by continuing her two-hour daily workouts and writing an article for a local newspaper, sharing her experience and encouraging women to be diligent about their health.

In concluding his letter, Paul wrote, “My wife is still my best friend, my hero, and deserves to have her accomplishments, compassion, and courage at meeting life’s challenges honored by carrying the Olympic Torch, a symbol of these qualities — the best of humankind.” Apparently the Olympic Committee agreed.