Julie Yip-Williams, Writer of Candid Blog on Cancer, Dies at 42


“What makes Julie’s story distinctive is that she approached cancer consciously,” Mark Warren, her editor, said in a telephone interview. “She did not deny it. She didn’t engage in happy talk. She thought this experience and this book might have something to teach people about facing hard truths, and would be an exhortation to the living.”

Her story also attracted the attention of “CBS Sunday Morning,” which televised a profile of her this month. During the segment, which was taped in late January and early February, Ms. Yip-Williams’s younger daughter, Isabelle, explained to the CBS correspondent Tracy Smith why she wasn’t too young to discuss her mother’s cancer openly.

“Because it’s actually happening in real life,” said Isabelle, who is 6, “and you don’t know how it feels like.”

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Ms. Yip-Williams with her husband, Joshua Williams, and daughters, from left, Isabelle and Mia, in 2012 in a family photograph.

Ms. Yip-Williams was born Diep Ly Thanh on Jan. 6, 1976, in Tam Ky, a city that was part of South Vietnam until the country’s unification with North Vietnam later that year. (The name Yip is the Chinese equivalent, rendered in English, of the Vietnamese name Diep.)

Congenital cataracts caused her blindness, and to her paternal grandmother, the family’s matriarch, the little girl’s condition meant that she was an unwanted burden and had no future.

When she was 2 months old, her father, Diep The Phu, who later became known as Peter, and her mother, the former Lam Que Anh, who is called Ann, took her to an herbalist in the coastal city of Da Nang with instructions from her grandmother: Kill her with one of his concoctions.

But the herbalist refused the gold bars he was offered, and Julie came home to her angry grandmother.

“She would have found another way to kill me,” she wrote on her blog in 2014, “but my great-grandmother got wind of her daughter-in-law’s endeavor from her Da Nang home and commanded that I be left alone: how she was born is how she will be.

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Ms. Yip-Williams in an undated family photograph with her parents shortly after they arrived in the United States.

She was 28 when she learned of her near-death in infancy — which she called “The Secret” — after her grandmother’s death.

In early 1979, 3-year-old Julie and about 50 members of her family boarded fishing boats from Vietnam for a monthlong journey to Hong Kong with little food or water. They were among the thousands of so-called boat people who fled in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Upper-class families like Ms. Yip-Williams’s had their assets confiscated by Vietnam’s Communist government.

“We were lucky because our boat did not sink as so many others did,” she wrote. “We were lucky because we were not forced to engage in cannibalism, as some other refugees were.”

After several months in a refugee camp, Julie, her parents and her brother, Denton, flew to San Francisco in November 1979 and soon afterward to Los Angeles. There, at what is now the UCLA Stein Eye Institute, she underwent surgery that gave her vision for the first time. But she remained legally blind; she needed thick eyeglasses and a magnifying glass to read small print and was not able to drive.

Her older sister, Lyna Yip, who arrived in the United States with two of her uncles ahead of her parents, sister and brother, also had surgery to remove cataracts but emerged with better vision. The family settled in Monterey Park, a suburb of Los Angeles. Ms. Yip-Williams’s father became a wholesale vegetable buyer and her mother a manicurist.

Ms. Yip-Williams received a bachelor’s degree in English and Asian Studies from Williams College in Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard Law School.

She joined the law firm Cleary Gottlieb in New York in 2002 and specialized there in corporate governance and mergers and acquisitions.

Reflecting on her acceptances to Williams and Harvard Law and then being hired by Cleary, she said at a fund-raising event sponsored by the law firm in 2014, “I never felt like I belonged in any of these fine institutions: a poor immigrant girl who wasn’t that smart but was willing to work hard, rubbing elbows with America’s elite.”

Besides her husband, who is also a lawyer, she is survived by her daughters, parents, brother and sister.

In a blog entry written last July, she addressed her daughters, telling them about the instructions she had left (from “who your dentist is” to “when your school tuition needs to be paid”) and the videos she would make (“about all the ins and outs of the apartment”).

But she also had blunter, yet inspiring, things to say, about loss and the unfairness of life.

“You will be deprived of a mother,” she wrote. “As your mother, I wish I could protect you from the pain. But also as your mother, I want you to feel the pain, to live it, embrace it, and then learn from it. Be stronger people because of it, for you will know that you carry my strength within you. Be more compassionate people because of it; empathize with those who suffer in their own ways.”

And, she wrote, “Rejoice in life and all of its beauty because of it; live with special zest and zeal for me.”

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Users Abandon Facebook After Cambridge Analytica Findings


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Richard H. Perry

A filmmaker in Los Angeles

For a long time now, Mr. Perry had wanted to leave Facebook.

He never felt comfortable knowing that the company had access to much of his personal information. In the months before the 2016 presidential election, he watched the social network become what he called “a garbage platform of ads and weird reposted articles and people that you care about exposing themselves as racists.”

But Facebook was also where Mr. Perry promoted his films, where he posted ads seeking help on the set, and where he communicated with colleagues and a “massive number” of his friends and relatives.

Until he heard about Cambridge Analytica.

“I suspected this stuff was going on, but this is the first time it’s been plainly exposed,” he said. “It seems so malicious, and Facebook seems so complicit all the way up and down, like it doesn’t care about its users.”

Mr. Perry, 39, has since deleted his profile and plans to switch to Twitter and Instagram for his social media needs.

“It was an easy decision,” he said. “It’s not going to be the end of the world.”

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Dan Clark

A retired Navy veteran in Maine

Mr. Clark kept one Facebook account to chat with friends and a separate account to keep tabs on members of his family nationwide. This week, he deleted both accounts.

“Facebook was the main platform I used to keep in touch with all of them, and it was a difficult decision to give it up,” he said. “But you have to stand for something, so I just put my foot down and said enough is enough.”

Mr. Clark, 57, said he had already been angry with Facebook for censoring some of his posts, which he said expressed his staunchly conservative views but were “never evil or putting anybody down.” He could not abide the idea that his personal information was also being sold or given away without his consent.

Before cutting the cord, Mr. Clark posted on Facebook inviting his contacts to ask him for his personal phone number. More than 100 people reached out within three days.

“There are just so many ways nowadays to stay in contact: phones, email, instant message, Gab, which is a social network that doesn’t censor anything,” he said. “Facebook is more obsolete than people would think.”

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Alexandra Kleeman, in her Staten Island apartment, said that “the idea that my data could be used for purposes that I expressly don’t want, that freaks me out.”

Credit
Joshua Bright for The New York Times

Alexandra Kleeman

A writer in Staten Island

Her first experience with fake news — a Facebook post claiming that Pope Francis had endorsed Mr. Trump’s candidacy — altered the way Ms. Kleeman looked at Facebook.

“It changed the psychological and emotional feel of the platform for me,” she said. “I don’t have a great feeling when I log in.”

The Cambridge Analytica scandal led her to remove the Facebook app from her phone. “I’m not going to give them my engagement clicks,” Ms. Kleeman, 32, said. But she is keeping the messaging function open for professional purposes and will continue using Instagram.

She doesn’t mind the idea that some personal data can be made public — she used to have a blog, she said.

“But the idea that my data could be used for purposes that I expressly don’t want, that freaks me out.”

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Paul Musgrave

An assistant professor in Amherst, Mass.

Twitter makes Mr. Musgrave feel depressed about the world, but Facebook is the social media platform he is trying to abandon.

As a political science teacher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Mr. Musgrave, 36, feels a professional responsibility to keep abreast of the news and academic chatter hurtling at him in the form of tweets.

Facebook was more valuable to him as a “low-key, offstage networking tool,” a “replacement for end-of-year family newsletters” that allowed him to “passively keep up with people,” he said. He joined the platform more than a decade ago and before that had been a member of Friendster, a precursor to Facebook.

But in 2016, while helping his mother during her campaign for a government position in Indiana, Mr. Musgrave discovered a “poisonous swamp” of content on the site. The Cambridge Analytica findings were even more disturbing, he said.

“This is a company that has Orwellian levels of data about us, truly Big Brother-level, but it’s behaving as if it has no social responsibility and is a purely neutral medium of communication,” he said. “That’s what’s really been scary.”

Having deactivated his Facebook account, with plans to delete it, he now worries about connecting with people who use the social network as their main conduit of communication.

“I’m definitely pruning myself away from some of those really important branches,” he said. “I watch my own students try to navigate the world of apps and smartphones, and even they don’t really know how the internet works outside these enclosed garden spaces.”

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Ben Greenzweig posted a final message on Facebook on Tuesday as he prepared to delete his profile over privacy concerns raised by the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Ben Greenzweig

An entrepreneur in Westchester, N.Y.

Once Mr. Greenzweig confirms that the 1,195 photos and 85 videos in his Facebook profile have downloaded, he plans to delete the account he has maintained for nearly a decade.

Mr. Greenzweig, 40, said the Cambridge Analytica news was “the last straw.”

“We have surpassed the tipping point, where the benefit now fails to outweigh the cost,” he said. “But I will definitely miss what the promise of Facebook used to be — a way to connect to community in a very global and local context.”

A year ago, Mr. Greenzweig was an “extraordinarily active” Facebook user who juggled conversations with friends, managed several groups, took out ads for his business, maintained professional contacts and even developed a trial chatbot function on the platform.

But on Tuesday night, in his final post, he asked his network to connect with him through email, LinkedIn, Twitter or phone.

“See everyone in the real world,” he wrote.

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