Shared at the Celebration of Life of Melissa J. Schlag, October 18, 2020 at Eagles Landing State Park in Haddam, and published in the Haddam Bulletin, December 2020.
By Tanja Moriarty
Twenty years ago, I brought a plate of cookies to welcome our new next-door neighbors. A beautiful young woman with dark brown eyes eagerly invited me and my two young children inside.
Right away, I was drawn to her warmth and her convictions.
While she lived next door, we organized block parties, wine-tastings, and game nights. We even started a town-wide book club together, Booksom Babes, which still meets to this day. We laughed a lot, talked a lot, and shared life’s ups and downs. She was one of my very best friends.
As time went on, some of our neighbors became disenchanted with the shenanigans in the two-party political system in town. In 2007, Melissa helped a few of us renegades start a third party, A Better Haddam. She agreed to become the party’s treasurer, saying, “I don’t know how, but I’ll do it.”
That’s how she rolled, jumping right in and rolling up her sleeves. We shook some folks up and made some waves with this party. That was the intention.
From there, Melissa just took off with the political scene. She began to flourish.
To promote more open town government, she began video recording every Board of Selectmen meeting from 2007 on. She lugged what would be now considered very antiquated, over-sized cameras and wires from the local public access cable television station to the meetings. Officials got nervous and I think it made them to sit up a little straighter knowing they were being broadcast to the masses. As time went by, others started video-recording the same meetings. As a result, more and more people began tuning in to local town government proceedings.
When Melissa moved across town to her soulmate, I felt the loss of her immediate presence in the neighborhood. But I knew she was truly happy and fully living life by her own lights. We stayed in constant contact with our numerous political activities and treasured our get-togethers where she’d blow us away with one of her new, designer cocktails.
She ran for the 33rd District senate seat on the Green Party ticket, making great inroads in Hartford that would later help benefit Haddam and the environment. She was endorsed by the New London Day and the Norwich Bulletin and garnered nearly 9 percent of the votes, which was pretty amazing for a third-party candidate.
She also began working on the Haddam Bulletin as a designer, journalist and one of its editors. She did this for 11 years.
Using her State Capitol connections and communication skills, Melissa made the perfect director as she spearheaded the Stop the Swap campaign. She was instrumental in saving from development a 17-acre state preserve abutting Eagle Landing State Park on the Connecticut River.
She led the Haddam Democratic Town Committee which grew in membership. We campaigned vigorously for her race for First Selectman which she won and served in 2013 through 2015. I was so proud of her accomplishments as our town’s leader.
Through her networking with DEEP and EPA, she championed the cleaned up the Higganum Cove. She was also instrumental in the DEEP purchase of the 42-acre Kuiaski parcel which became a State park for everyone to enjoy instead of housing lots.
I have to tell you, since she passed so suddenly, and because she always deflected accolades and praise, I worried that because there was to be no formal obituary, that her incredible accomplishments might go unsung.
But within just two short weeks since her passing, her momentous accomplishments had been featured in major newspapers, on television news, by Connecticut’s lieutenant governor, and state and federal representatives.
Our own Haddam town government proclaimed Sunday, October 18, 2020 Melissa Jean Schlag Day. On that day, over 100 people gathered at Eagle Landing to celebrate her extraordinary life and irreplaceable friendship.
I can rest now that the world has fully and fairly acknowledged the accomplishments of one Melissa Jean Schlag. She’s been rightfully portrayed as a passionate, self-assured and uncompromising public servant. A tireless leader crusading for open government, fairness, and saving our vulnerable planet.
On a more local and personal level, she also was the ultimate Girl Scout, “Always leaving a place better than she found it.”
She was a fixer, a female MacGyver, a carpenter, a roofer, painter, floor installer, anything she put her mind to she become an expert. She was also a computer whiz and if she didn’t know how to do something, she’d look it up. She was a planner, a consummate researcher, stone-turner, fact-checker, journalist, mover and shaker, an environmental heroine. All of these qualities made her a brave and passionate, public servant.
Melissa showed such incredible strength and tenacity to all who knew her. When she told me four years ago, she had cancer, she said so nonchalantly you might have though she said, “I have a hang nail.”
She lived well, passionately, fiercely, making everything count, defying and denying the damned cancer. She never complained. She never showed weakness.
That’s how she wanted it.
Many had no idea she was dealing with Stage 4 cancer. Those of us closest to her didn’t even realize how sick she was until the end.
The last few precious texts we shared while she was at Yale Hospital informed me that she still had no intention of letting on how the cancer was progressing. Or that she was giving up. She was clearly ticked off that she was still there after a long stay, expecting to be home the Monday before she passed away.
The last text I sent her was on Friday morning, Oct. 2nd —the day I would later learn was the day she passed. The text was a copy of someone’s cheeky Twitter post, that was going viral after the announcement of President’s Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis. It read, “Looks like RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsburg) successfully argued her first case before God.”
I don’t know if she ever got to see that on her last day on Earth. I like to think she did and that she may have grinned before she took her leave.
I also like to imagine her now, communing with other great, brave souls who inspired, sacrificed, moved and shook us to higher thoughts, actions and standards.
Like them, Melissa made history with her convictions and actions in her short life. In my humble opinion, she belongs right up there with RBG, Susan B. Anthony and Joan of Arc.
For those of us who had the precious privilege of knowing her, we will forever be in awe of a woman who accomplished more in 46 years, than people twice her age.
May her legacy of promoting democracy, protecting the environment and so bravely living an authentic, uncompromising life continue to inspire us to do the same.