by Beverly Hutchinson McNeff
My friend of forty-four years made her “journey without distance” into the eternal life that we all share on October 19, 2021. At the age of 90, Judith Skutch Whitson was, as my dad would always say, 90 years young. And, that statement truly embodied Judy. Even though she openly shared how her body wasn’t like it used to be, it did not diminish her quick wit and infectious laugh. She remained vital and enthusiastic in her work with the Foundation for Inner Peace, her love of her family, and watching anything interesting streaming on Netflix. In one of my last communications with her, we laughed about watching The Kominsky Method on Netflix with actors Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin. She admitted her great admiration for Arkin and that her daughter Tam was once in a position to facilitate a call with Arkin, but as Judy put it, “I chickened out.” Arkin wrote about his spiritual awakening, and I told her he probably would have cherished her phone call. But that was Judy. Yes, a very confident and capable woman who was also humble and a little gobsmacked by her incredible journey with A Course in Miracles.
The last time we talked, our conversation went on for over three hours. It took place about two months before her passing, and we talked about everything. Our long phone conversations were not uncommon, but in looking back now, I can see this one was a recap of our extraordinary and cherished friendship. We talked about friends and family, special times together, and the life of A Course in Miracles. She gave me the gift of closure with that sacred time.
During that conversation, she agreed to participate in our on-demand seminar, Above the Battleground, which was based on the text section in the Course of the same name. When I told her the title and the focus of the seminar, she paused, saying how important that topic would be in our world right now, and she was willing (as she always was) to share her voice for something healing. I was so grateful for her willingness to do a segment for the event that she recorded on September 22, less than a month before her passing. It would be the last event she would physically do for Miracle Distribution Center, which aired on October 23, 2021, only four days after her passing on October 19th. Judy’s heartprint has forever been imprinted on the life of the Center and my life as well.
I was a young woman when I met Judy. My brother, Richard, and I were mesmerized by this woman who only stood about five feet tall but always appeared as a mighty spirit to be reckoned with. She was mesmerizing to listen to, and we hung on her every word. Learning about the Course back in the late 70s was not as easy as today. There was no internet, no books about the topic, and the Course itself was not readily available in bookstores. In those days, it was the oral tradition of storytelling that inspired us, and no one could tell a story like Judy!
In my last conversation with Judy, I casually said something about her being like Ken Burns (documentarian famous for making history come alive for multitudes) for students of the Course. She quickly told me of an interview she had just heard about Ken Burns and how he got turned on to his style of history-telling. Burns said his dad never talked much about his time in WWII, but when Ken came home from school with a book about the war, something was sparked within his dad. Since Ken was to write a report on that period, he showed the book to his father. His dad said that the people who wrote the book didn’t really know what happened, and he began to recall his personal stories about the war that captivated his son and started his life’s work. Judy did the same thing for me; she ignited my life’s work with A Course in Miracles.
I don’t know if you would be reading the pages of The Holy Encounter or be helped by the life work of Miracle Distribution Center if Judy had not fulfilled her function so perfectly. The two co-scribes of A Course in Miracles, Bill Thetford and Helen Schucman, did their critical part in joining together to bring the Course into being, but they were not complete without someone who could make the Course come alive to us seeking souls.
When Bill and Helen met Judy May 29, 1975, the Inner Voice that had directed them to take down the Course once again perfectly guided them to Judy and Judy to them. Every year, Judy and I celebrated this day with a quick email of celebration. For many years before his passing, Ken Wapnick, who was divinely guided to help Bill and Helen structure the Course and then become a powerful teacher of its principles, would celebrate this occasion with Judy after Bill’s passing in 1988. She told me Ken had even sent her a cake a few times to commemorate the anniversary, but as years passed, even that faded away. But Judy and I continued our celebration of this event. I knew it was a significant date in her life, and frankly, it is a significant date in all our lives. She told me that she met Bill and Helen at noon on May 29, 1975, and then was “presented with the Course at 1:15pm.” As she would reminisce about that day, I could feel how she remembered so clearly all that had to come together for her life to be transformed by this incredible event. I felt grateful to be able to share this important date with her. In 2021, I sent her my annual celebratory message, to which she replied,
Only you would remember. No one else. Thank you for that preciously held thought, it made me both laugh and cry for joy.
I love you sooooo much!
Needless to say, as I reread that email now, it makes me both laugh and cry for joy, too.
As I said, Judy followed Guidance to get the word out about the Course to a western world that was just beginning to embrace these ideas of inner transformation. Her approach was unconventional, but then Holy Spirit had the plan, not her. She did not write books; she did not seek fame and popularity; she followed her Guidance and told her truth. The Holy Spirit had a way to use this one woman to ignite others, much like the way Jesus used his disciples and their disciples and their disciples and their disciples, etc. We all became the conduits of her spirit and inspiration.
Her road was not always easy. Egos are strong, and occasionally people would get upset with her. Over her years of practicing the Course, she was able to see this as a call for love, and her response to extend love may not have always come in the way others liked, but it was how she was guided to do so. At the end of her physical existence, her body was “kicking her out,” as she told her daughter Tam, but her spirit was at peace.
In those final hours, Judy shared that the stories that make us all who we think we are, were over, and she wasn’t going on to continue stories but rather to become everything. It was a birth to our Oneness which was never born nor could ever die. This is the true gratitude Judy felt at that moment, and love truly was her path to that awareness.
Judy would end most correspondence with lesson 195 in the Course, “Love is the way I walk in gratitude.” It is a beautiful truth, but it is not always “beautiful” to live. To be grateful for those calls for love can be challenging at best. Judy was always up for the challenge. I remember her sharing about those early days before Helen Schucman passed in 1981. Helen was not the easiest person to deal with, but Judy never wavered. No matter what Helen would say, Judy would focus on the love that was Helen and not the ego that could be so challenging. She would tell me how Helen would take her hand and stroke it ever so gently while she lovingly called her Kitten and expressed her deep gratitude to Judy. That was Helen’s truth, Judy would say, so she would take a deep breath and focus on that. She learned in one of the most challenging classrooms of life that what someone was saying was not who they are, and if she did not focus on Helen’s truth, beyond her ego cries, then Judy herself would not know her own reality. Judy beautifully taught that giving was receiving.
She loved her family dearly, her children and grandchildren, and her three husbands and their children. When her first husband, Howard Cohen, with whom she had her two children Jonathan and Tamara, died in New York in 2020, Judy was with him and his current wife by Zoom, sharing the completion of a healed relationship. When Whit, her third husband, passed in 2018, she was ever-present with a man who continued to be her great joy and deep love. She would often invoke the saying Whit would respond with when something tickled his funny bone, “What a honk!”
Judy’s second husband, Robert (Bob) Skutch, still lives in Marin with his wife, Lee. Bob recently retired from his forty-six years as the Swiss Army knife of the Foundation for Inner Peace, meaning he pitched in and skillfully did anything that needed to be done. Bob wrote one of the first books, Journey Without Distance, in 1984, to tell the story behind the Course and the impact it was having up until that point. Bob and Whit worked like a team with Judy for the vital work of FIP; it was truly a holy relationship. Judy often referred to the three of them as “a three-legged stool” of FIP, with each leg vital for its function.
In my last conversation with Judy, I recall saying to her, as I had said many times, that without her, the Course would not be in our hands today. She was the reason any of us ever found the Course. Holy Spirit orchestrated everything perfectly to bring it into being, and everyone played their part flawlessly in arriving at the place where they were ready to assume their assigned mission. I was, as I always was, deeply grateful for her incredible effort, diligence, and commitment. She knew this was a sacred duty that was healing millions around the world. She was humbled by the enormity of the power that controlled all our lives, but she was confident in her assignment, which she did with incredible grace, elegance, and laser-focused brilliance.
A few years back, I received a gift in the mail from her. It was one of Helen Schucman’s poems from The Gifts of God. Judy had found a wonderful calligraphist who put the poem onto parchment and then placed it within a beautiful golden frame. The poem was “With Thanks,” and it reads,
No one can know just what his part will mean
When God from little lights completes a star
From what we give to Him. Each is unseen
Until the other parts from near and far
Are joined by Him into a form that He
Can use to light the darkness. In His Hand
The stars are born, to shine upon the sea
And to enchant all things upon the land
And raise them Heavenward. Perhaps your gift
Is set upon a star tip, or perhaps
It shimmers at the center point, to lift
A heart from sadness. Or perhaps it caps
A silver star-side. Do not then forget
In what we value little God may see
A new-born star, unknown to us as yet
Who cannot look on glory still to be.
I cherish this gift for many reasons but especially because it came from my friend. This was a poem about her, as well. She had no idea as a little girl or as a woman growing up in New York City what her gift to the world would be. I am so profoundly grateful to her that my words are incomplete. I hope you realize this poem is about you, too. No matter how you see yourself, you have a mighty purpose for healing, and I thank you for walking this path of healing with us.
I close by saying thank you, my dear friend, Judy, for following your Guidance so perfectly and for joining with me in fun and friendship and love while we abided in this world that is not our Home. I know you are experiencing your true homecoming because your heart was always filled with gratitude and love for everyone.
And gratitude to God becomes the way in which He is remembered, for love cannot be far behind a grateful heart and thankful mind. God enters easily, for these are the true conditions for your homecoming. (M-23.4)