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Claudia Card, an internationally known UW-Madison professor and a leading expert in the philosophy of evil, died what she considered a “good” death.

At a celebration of her life Sunday at the Pyle Center on campus, her niece, Melissa Card, 36, quoted from a post her aunt made on her online CaringBridge site four months ago, when she said that while everyone dies, not everyone is fortunate enough to have a good death.

“I consider myself to be among the most fortunate of this world in that I am going to have a good death, surrounded by the love of family and friends who have sustained me through this process,” professor Card wrote on the website where people can post updates about their medical conditions.

And dozens of those family members and friends gathered for a celebration of her life, something Card — who called herself “an out, in-your-face lesbian” — requested over a traditional service at a funeral home, her niece said.

When she was a young woman, Card’s parents died a year apart, leaving her in a role of responsibility when it came to her three younger brothers. Her parents were not able to die a good death, Card wrote on CaringBridge. “A good (death) is a very good gift.”

Card, 74, died of lung cancer on Sept. 12. And as she anticipated, when she did she was surrounded by family at Agrace HospiceCare in Fitchburg.

Her brother, Bruce Card, 61, a real estate appraiser in Madison, stopped working for three months to spend more time with his sister at the end of her life.

“It was really a learning experience for me — to see someone with so many reasons to complain and be angry with her situation and the world in general, and she didn’t,” he said.

Claudia Card found something that gave her pleasure in each of her remaining days, whether it was a visit from a friend — and she had many visitors — or a movie, or a dish of Babcock Hall ice cream. “Mocha macchiato was her favorite,” her brother said.

The Card children grew up in Pardeeville and Claudia went on to get an undergraduate degree in philosophy from UW-Madison. She got her doctorate at Harvard, and came back to teach at UW-Madison from 1966 until shortly before her death.

“She was the embodiment of the Wisconsin Idea,” said Sheryl Tuttle Ross, 49, a graduate student of Card’s who now teaches philosophy at UW-La Crosse, and came to Madison for the memorial celebration Sunday.

“The product of fantastic public schools in Pardeeville, she came to UW-Madison as an undergraduate, won a fellowship where she could go anywhere in the world for graduate school,” Tuttle Ross said of her mentor. “She chose to go to Harvard University and then came back to UW-Madison to teach students who were a lot like herself — basically good kids from Wisconsin.”

When she died, Card was working on her third book about evil. In a lecture on the eve of the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Card told an audience that the heinous attack on the U.S. didn’t redefine evil or give it new meaning.

History is full of atrocities, Card said, noting that “in many parts of the world the event isn’t as remarkable.”

Sept. 11 shattered some illusions and proved that the United States could be vulnerable, she said.

“Many people thought it might make us more empathetic with people in other places in the world,” said Card, whose book, “The Atrocity Paradigm: A Theory of Evil,” came out around that time. “It made some people think.”

Back on CaringBridge, as her condition worsened, Card wrote that humans come kicking and screaming into life, but don’t have to exit that way.

“I think I do want to (go) gentle into the good night,” she wrote. “One of the ancient philosophers said that never to die would be a curse. Interesting idea!”

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Samara Kalk Derby covers events in and around Madison on Sundays. If you have an idea for Around Town, contact her at or 608-252-6439.


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