What Would Pearl Do?

Reflections on 2018

By: Nancy Easton

January 2019

For an organization that functions primarily on a school year schedule, a new calendar year is really just a midway point for us. The first half of this school year has been marked by something we have always done quite well – collaborate. Since we began, we have been a close partner to the NYC Dept of Education Office of School Food. While that collaboration continues to be our most robust, this year I also want to give mention to the many organizations with whom we work together to bring about healthy change, for kids in schools here in NYC. I just returned from a City Council hearing to advocate for bills to improve food and nutrition in NYC public schools. I was truly emotional standing on the steps of City Hall, knowing that we have come so far from the early days of doing this work alone. Thanks to The Tisch Center for Food Education and Policy, we now have an amazing coalition of food and nutrition advocates (nearly 100 of us!) who are already proving the value of “united we stand . . .”. Next month I will meet up with new partners from Life Time Foundation, and old friends from Whole Kids Foundation, to begin our preparations for the School Food Innovation Lab – a national example of collaboration in the quest for school lunch reform.

When pressed to write about the year that was 2018, I could only think about what a hard year it was for me personally, marked by the loss of my beloved mother-in-law, Pearl Nipon, at age 90. It’s hard to comment on 2018 without giving a tribute to her, and how she influenced me as a woman entrepreneur. The Philadelphia Inquirer does a wonderful job of capturing her influence. Pearl paved the way for so many, simply by working hard and never accepting “no.” While she was small in stature, she was gigantic in spirit and positivity – a spirit and energy that certainly fueled me. She believed she could do absolutely anything. And she did. Pearl started her first business at 18; she fired her most important supplier for making advances at her sister long before #metoo; she fought (and beat) breast cancer; she raised four children together with her husband (and my father-in-law) Albert; she exercised every day and did all of this with the most incredible grace and style. I used to “shop” in Pearl’s closet when I was looking for the perfect outfit for an important event or meeting. She was quick to give her opinion of what looked just right, and what didn’t. And, mostly, she reminded me that I could be both feminine and bold – just like her, and the clothing she designed.

We lost a family matriarch in 2018, yet her influence will live on in the many women (not only family) whom she inspired. As the head of Wellness in the Schools, I will continue to evoke my inner Pearl when I get yet another “no” or another setback in our effort to end childhood obesity –  like the most recent episode of flaunting fast food in the White House, or the rolling back of nutrition standards. This work is not easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is, and Pearl would never, ever back down.