Exclusive AAUW Interview With Diane Rehm

Diane Rehm, one of America’s best-known radio personalities, joined AAUW CEO Kim Churches this week for a wide-ranging conversation that touched on everything from the COVID-19 quarantine to the joys of having a job you love and, most significantly, to sensitive issues of death and dying, the subject of Rehm’s recent books.

Churches’ discussion with the beloved National Public Radio host was the latest in a series of virtual convenings that AAUW has been holding since late last year. Because of the virus-related lockdown, this one took place on the web-conferencing platform Zoom. Hundreds of AAUW members from around the country tuned in.

AAUW Exclusive

Public radio legend Diane Rehm inspires AAUW members with her words of resilience and courage.

Like most others in her native Washington D.C., Rehm has been confined to her home for the past several weeks. “I think of myself as a people person, someone who loves to be out … at social events,” she said. Still, “I’ve learned to tolerate being alone quite well. My little dog Bella has been keeping me great company. And I’m in constant contact with my family, friends and loved ones.”

Among the many conversations she has had recently, Rehm said she talked to her doctor about what might happen if she developed a serious case of the coronavirus. “I told her that I definitely do not want to be put on a ventilator,” she said, acknowledging that such conversations are “difficult but very important to have.”

End-of-life issues have been central to Rehm’s work in recent years. In 2016, her book, On My Own, Rehm described the painful and drawn-out death of her husband of 54 years. Though John had begged his doctors to hasten his inevitable death, he ended up having to take matters into his own hands by refusing food, water and medication.

Diane’s most recent book, When My Time Comes (published earlier this year) features interviews with patients, families, ethicists, physicians and others on getting medical assistance with dying. The interviews, which cover a wide range of viewpoints, will be part of a public television documentary to be released next year.

Regardless of what people believe or what choices they ultimately make, Rehm told Churches that she thinks everyone should ultimately have an end-of-life plan. “Most people haven’t thought about it enough … it’s too frightening to consider,” she said. But the fact is that “death is a part of life, and we need to make as many preparations for that as we do for the birth of a child.”

With her own plans in place, Rehm says she is focusing now on enjoying her work, her life and her new husband, John Hagedorn, a retired Lutheran Minister, who she married in 2017. (He is in Florida, near his doctors, during the quarantine.)

Though she stopped doing weekly The Diane Rehm Show on public radio in 2016, she immediately began writing books, working on the documentary and hosting a twice-weekly podcast. For Rehm, “retirement” is not in the cards. Those who have “labored with their bodies” may not be able to continue working, she said, but Rehm counts herself among the lucky ones who doesn’t have to stop. “I’ve been fortunate enough to do ‘labor of the mind,’ ” she said. “And there’s no need to ever retire from that … ”

She said that her family — including two children and four grandchildren — is more important than anything.  At the same time, “work for me is a huge part of my life, and I want to be able to continue for as long as I’m alive.”