Remembering Monica Selter: A child of Berkeley and her times

Monical Selter, who died on Nov. 15. Photo: Courtesy of family
Monica Selter, who died on Nov. 15. Photo: Courtesy of family

Monica Selter, 1965-2017

Berkeley has lost one of its warrior daughters. Monica Selter, who grew up in Berkeley and embodied its values throughout her life, died Nov. 15 after a hard-fought 10-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Monica was the daughter of Carole Selter Norris, a 50-year Berkeley resident, longtime housing activist and current chair of the Berkeley Housing Authority.

Monica was a child both of Berkeley and her times. She grew up amid tenant activism, Vietnam War protests and People’s Park and the tenant rent strike. With her mother and younger sister Sherri, she traveled with Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters to the 1969 Woodstock festival. She attended Berkeley High, then set out for a very different environment, attending Grinnell College in Iowa.

Driven by a determination to make a difference, Monica moved to DC after college and went to work for the Aspen Institute, traveling the world to arrange conferences to foster communication about important issues affecting the peoples of the world. She then moved to Amnesty International and New York City, focusing on the issue of female genital mutilation.

After some years, Monica concluded that she could have a greater impact on social issues with a law degree, so she enrolled in the Washington College of Law at American University in DC, graduating as the class’s most outstanding student, as selected by the school’s faculty. After a brief stint at a large DC law firm, she moved to the Alliance for Justice, a DC-based national association that works to ensure that the federal judiciary advances core constitutional values, preserves human rights and unfettered access to the courts, and adheres to the even-handed administration of justice for all Americans.

In 2001, Monica married Dan Klaidman, an award-winning journalist and author of Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency. They had two daughters, Bella, now 14, and Shayna, now 12. The family moved to New York in 2006, where Monica devoted much of her time to raising her girls while serving as a judge’s attorney in the New York State legal system.

Monica was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in late January 2017. The diagnosis came the same week as the Women’s March in Washington, which Carole, Monica and the girls were scheduled to attend. Although not able to go to Washington, they all marched in New York to make their voices heard.

Of her struggle, her husband writes:

“Over the course of this fight, Monica’s essence shined through in so many beautiful ways. First, she was single-minded in protecting and loving her family; she was generous toward her friends, she fiercely battled her illness on behalf of Bella and Shayna, her true north stars, and she took care of me with as much strength and love as she had every day during our almost 20 years of marriage. Through it all, Monica was so honest. She maintained hope that she would find a way to keep her cancer at bay for long enough to see her girls grow up, but it was a hope not grounded in reality. Until the very end, even at her weakest, Monica was Monica. She was tender and full of love toward the girls, but still firm about their behavior, not budging when it came to teaching them right from wrong. In her last days she enjoyed talking about all the fabulous trips we had taken together as a family, to Spain, Italy, France and California and we reminisced about good friends and always about good food. And at the very end, when I was having a hard time following her instructions to make her more comfortable, she flashed her well-known frustration at me for my semi-competence (that made me laugh!). She still marveled at what was right with the world and had no patience for what was wrong with the world. During her last hours, when she could no longer talk, Monica groaned and rolled her eyes at the mention of Trump. She died wearing a shirt emblazoned with one word: ‘Feminist.’ Everyone loves Monica and everyone will miss her.”

Monica is survived by her husband Dan and girls Bella and Shayna, her mother Carole Selter Norris, her father Gerry Selter, sisters Sherri, Sharlyn, Shanda and Katherine and brothers Adam, Michael and Scott, and many cousins, nieces and nephews. The family requests that donations in honor of Monica’s memory be made to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.