Lydia and the Lawyers: The Fight for “Looking for Lydia”

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Lydia and the Lawyers: The Fight for Looking for Lydia


In late February of 2013 I entered the Lydia Roper Home, an assisted living facility for women, to recuperate from a bad fall.  During the eight months I was there, I led a study of the Old Testament.

When I was preparing to leave, in October of 2013, the women in the Bible study asked if I would read the New Testament with them. I agreed and for over a year I spent my Wednesday mornings back at the Roper Home.

Sometime in March of 2014 I started writing about the Bible study, about the Bible, about the Roper family and especially about Lydia Roper for whom the Lydia Roper Home is named. I talked with the ladies about the writing and about my research into the Roper family; periodically I read to them from the manuscript, especially my descriptions of them.

I spoke with the Administrator at the Roper Home to ask if she had any records of the history of the Home.  She said she did not and that she wasn’t interested in history.

On June 16 2014 I called the CEO of Virginia United Methodist Homes, which has managed the Lydia Roper Home since 1963 when the Roper family gave it to the Methodist Church, to ask the same question.  We had a pleasant conversation, which included my description of the writing I was doing, and he sent me a book, published for an anniversary of VUMH, which included four pages about the Roper Home.

On June 17 I sent an email thanking him for his time and referring to “the story I’m trying to tell in my writing.”  I never received a response.

In late February of 2015 I signed a contract with Koehler Books to publish Looking for Lydia; Looking for God.

On March 3 2015 John Koehler and I had an appointment with the administrator at the Lydia Roper Home to tell her about the book.  I began that conversation with, “I have some wonderful news for all of us” and added that a percentage of any royalties would go to the Roper Home.

On March 9 both John Koehler and I received a special delivery letter from the CEO of Virginia United Methodist Homes   This letter contained several errors in fact, including the claim that no one had “knowledge of the contents of this book.”

On March 15 The Virginian-Pilot published a feature article about my Bible study at the Roper Home and my research into the Roper family.

On March 16 I received a special delivery letter from an attorney for VUMH suspending the Bible study and requesting  that I not enter the building.

And so began a situation that took nearly three months to resolve itself.  It was an ugly process, a very ugly and painful time.  Publication of the book was on hold.  The letters kept coming, increasing or just rewording their accusations and demands.  Families of all the residents were contacted and apparently both the families and the residents were told that I had returned to the Roper Home after my own residence there with the intention of uncovering confidential information for a book.  HIPAA laws were invoked.  The welfare of the residents was proclaimed a priority. Some family members considered hiring their own attorneys. The representatives of the Methodist Homes demanded access to my manuscript. An injunction was threatened should I try to publish.

I found an attorney.

Koehler Books stood by me. My attorney cut his fees in half. Several of the women from the Bible study (who had left the Roper Home) stayed in touch; their families wrote letters of support. Three of Lydia Roper’s great-grandchildren wrote letters.

In mid- May the attorney for VUMH wrote a letter conceding that they could not, after all, find any legal objections to the book.

On July 24 2015 Looking for Lydia; Looking for God was released.  John Koehler drove the thirty miles from his office to knock on my door and place in my hands the first hardback copy.

On September 12 2015 the Slover Library in Norfolk hosted the first of their new series of “book talks.” I talked about Looking for Lydia.  The beautiful sixth floor space, with its glass wall that looks over the rooftops of historic downtown Norfolk, was filled with friends and family and with some people I didn’t know at all.  The families of all the sons of Lydia and John Roper were represented. They listened; they asked questions; they bought books.

From mid-September until mid-November I travelled to Texas, Michigan, and Kentucky visiting friends and selling and signing books.

In the book I pose some questions–questions I would ask Lydia Roper if I found her, questions the Bible ladies and I asked ourselves and each other: What did you want? What did you get? What did you lose?  I didn’t think, when I wrote those questions, that I would be asking them about this small book, written from my heart about a  group of women I had come to love, about a group of women who had come to love one another and me.

At the end of that awful time, which I sometimes thought would never end, I felt exhausted and defeated.  I had lost the Bible study; I had lost the friendships it had created; I was not allowed to enter the building where I had spent nearly two years of my life, not allowed to contact the women who had read those Bible stories with me.  The losses seemed overwhelming.

Lydia CoverAt the end of that awful time, I had a book.  I had the book I had written for the ladies of the Bible study and for Lydia Roper and her great-grandchildren, a book I dedicated to them.  At the Slover Library I acknowledged the people “who stood with me through the terrible months of March and April and most of May,” and I held that book up high.  At the Slover Library, a woman I didn’t know came up to me to say that her mother was in a nursing home, slipping into dementia, and that she was reading my book to her, “Mother never told me anything at all about her early life but now, as I read, she stops me every few pages to tell me another story.  I feel as if I’m finally getting to know her, just in time.”

She thanked me.

What did I want? What did I get? What did I lose?

The fight for Looking for Lydia was too long, too ruthless, too much. In the end, they gave up, the book was published, it has made a difference to a few people.

Did we win?  I honestly don’t know.

Looking for Lydia, @ Amazon
Looking for Lydia @ Barnes & Noble

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8 Responses to "Lydia and the Lawyers: The Fight for “Looking for Lydia”"
  1. Mark Lauden says:

    Of course you won, Dean. Storytelling is the most powerful thing we do, and by telling your story you’ve succeeded in moving the world forward a little bit.
    We can’t all be Homer, Anne Frank or Harper Lee, but every story counts. Whether it shares wisdom, inspires someone, prevents the repetition of past mistakes, or simply makes someone’s day better, it counts.
    I’m glad you’re writing, and I’m glad you’re persistent. The story that you’ve told here is engaging and inspiring too – thanks for that.

  2. This is dreadful, another grim reminder of the litigiousness of our society. I’m so sorry you had to go through that for a book! And I’m glad you were finally vindicated. I can’t imagine what kind of creeps would start such a brouhaha. Had they read the book or a galley?

  3. Anonymous says:

    My mother would say yes Dean.
    It’s not about winning, it about the experience you had,
    the strength you gained and the hope you gave others and found yourself.
    Much love,

  4. Christopher Meade says:

    What was the problem for those opposers? I would have thought they would have welcomed the publicity. I’m glad it got sorted for you eventually. Talk about “suffering for your art”.

  5. Mitzy says:

    The legal story should definitely be on a paper jacket /. Maybe with a lace bodice being opened ? Like banished thoughts anywhere it sharpens awareness of a kindness bastardized (too many metaphors?) and harnessed/ control. This is one of those memorable examples of the fact that badness (one might say “satan”) exists indeed . It might be critical/definitive to your perseverance and the book’s grit/ value. Keep writing . We need you. The funny thing is that, without the caveat, jacket , the memory could be “there was SOME controversy”. “I don’t remember”.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hi Dean,
    A very nice post and description of what may happen when writing a book. When I asked one of the sources for my book about using their material, I received an email from their lawyer threatening to sue if I ever published. Too bad for them. I deleted all of their material and they lost out on free advertising.

    I’m glad this all worked out for you.

    Mark Slauter

  7. Ellen says:

    I saw what you went through, during those 2 years, and I think it was very mean spirited for them to stop you from having your Bible study and exclude you from the building, hiding behind confidentiality laws. You had gotten the women and/or their families to sign authorization forms and those that didn’t were not in the book.

    Instead of celebrating a historic women from Norfolk’s past, as well as staying in contact with the women of Norfolk now going through their twilight years, the “management” chose to act like big business, and close rank. I wonder what they were afraid of?

    I am not sure about who “won”, but they definitely LOST!!!

  8. Delilah says:

    Yes, you won big time, because you were brave enough to fight for what was right. They probably expected you to become intimidated and disappear, but they didn’t know who they were dealing with, did they?

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