The memorial service for Phyllis Seidman, who died Tuesday night after she was struck by an SUV in Palo Alto Tuesday afternoon, will be held in January to give family and friends time to travel from afar, according to her daughter Jennifer Seidman.
"My mom loved a big party," Jennifer told the Weekly Thursday.
As many as 500 people are expected at the service.
Friends and family describe Seidman as adventurous, energetic and upbeat despite having chronic progressive multiple sclerosis for the past 25 years. She was a familiar sight around town in her wheelchair, traveling with her fluffy white Samoyed dog, Sintah. Sintah died earlier this year, but Seidman planned to get a new puppy early in 2009, according to friends.
Jennifer said Seidman died Tuesday at 6:15 p.m. at Stanford Hospital. She was struck by the SUV, believed to be a Toyota Highlander, at about 3:15 p.m. when she was crossing Cowper Street at Embarcadero Road, police reported. The incident is under investigation. The driver of the SUV stopped immediately and called police.
"The driver didn't see her," Police Agent Dan Ryan said.
"This is devastatingly sad news," Becky Beacom, assistant director of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Education Division, said when informed of Seidman's death.
"With Phyllis what comes to mind are words like 'amazing,' 'tireless,' 'independent,' 'dedicated,' 'smart-as-a-whip,' 'gentle' and 'loving,'" Beacom said. Seidman, 66, had lived in Palo Alto since 1971 and raised two daughters, Karen and Jennifer, who live in Pacifica and Oakland, respectively. She also has a grandson, Michael, and a sister who lives in England.
Seidman was a native of Philadelphia, Penn., and was a nationally ranked tennis player as a teenager. She worked as an occupational therapist on the East Coast before she moved to California.
Prior to her illness, Seidman worked for the visiting nurses of Santa Clara County. She also worked to support local artists and assisted with PAMF art exhibits, as well as maintaining an outdoor sculpture gallery in her back yard.
She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1983, and in 1993 after a difficult decade of adjustment organized a support group for MS patients at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, as well as arranging regular community lectures. The group still meets twice a month.
She was profiled in the foundation's 1993 annual report, in which she was quoted as saying she tried to live as normal a life as possible despite the limitations.
"I can't ski. That's what I miss the most," she said, adding that being unable to cook was also a loss.
In 1995, Seidman was presented with the Human Relations Award of Special Merit by the Friends of the Human Relations Commission of Santa Clara County for her work in the community in human relations and human rights.
"She put her heart and soul in the MS Support Group ... working tirelessly and enthusiastically" to provide both emotional support and information, said Maija Gudrais, administrative coordinator of the foundation's Education Division, who worked closely with Seidman for years.
Gudrais said Seidman was excited about an upcoming lecture in March and had asked her to reserve a larger room for a big expected turnout.
Despite being restricted to a wheelchair, Seidman loved traveling, her daughter said.
"That was her big passion," she said.
Many of the trips were organized by Helen Jones, a longtime Palo Alto resident and former neighbor who has been wheelchair-bound for more than 50 years after a water-skiing accident when she was 20.
The two were neighbors before Seidman was stricken with MS, and Jones became a role model for Seidman of what is possible, her daughter and friends say. Jones and her late husband were pioneers in international travel for wheelchair-bound people.
"We became very close friends over the years," Jones said.
Seidman's travels included trips all over the world, including one to Peru two years ago during which she was carried to the ancient Incan mountaintop city of Machu Picchu. She earlier had been to Budapest, Israel and numerous other international destinations.
Seidman also saw the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids in Egypt, her daughter said.
Beacom described a recent trip taken by Seidman that got people laughing at an Oct. 27 MS Society lecture. She said Seidman "was flying out on a 'red eye' immediately after the lecture to visit old friends back East and catch the fall colors, and somewhere between her home and PAMF she lost a shoe." After some "Cinderella" comments, Seidman arranged for a replacement pair to be delivered to the airport, and the lost shoe turned up later.
Seidman had "a very adventuresome spirit," her friend, Carroll Harrington, said. She had known Seidman since 1973 when they were neighbors.
"It is just so sad," Harrington said of Seidman's death.
The family hopes that a witness to the collision that fatally injured Seidman comes forward, Jennifer said.
"Karen and I are not looking to lay blame," she said. "We just want to know what happened."
Ryan said the Highlander was traveling northbound on Cowper and had crossed Embarcadero when it struck Seidman as she was crossing Cowper, a few blocks from her home. Ryan said the driver, who had her young son with her, was distraught but cooperative.
Seidman was taken to Stanford Hospital, where she died from her injuries shortly after 6 p.m., according to her daughter — rather than after 9 p.m. as initially reported by police.
Police are asking anyone who saw the collision to call Officer Craig Lee at 650-617-3158.
Jennifer Seidman said the family prefers no flowers but instead donations be made to an account at the Multiple Sclerosis Society, details of which are still be finalized.