Margaret Mary Mannion Magnus migrated to this country at the age of 14. She came from a tiny little town called Athenry in the County Galway in Ireland, where she lived in a two bedroom house with her five siblings. She left behind everything that she knew and came to America to stay with her Aunt Rita, who lived up in Pelham. It was understandably a little bit of “rough going” at first. She used to laugh when she looked back and told me stories about how frightened and confused she was when they told her that her Aunt was going to take her to “ride a Greyhound bus” or to go “eat a hot dog”, because up until then she was aware only of the canine varieties of these things.
But as we all know she caught on fast and went on to build quite a name and a life for herself. In all respects, she was really truly nothing short of extraordinary.
On an academic level, she earned her baccalaureate degree from Incarnate Word College and master's and PhD from the Catholic University of America. She became a tenured professor at “THE” Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing where she taught for over 25 years. Her specialties included nursing informatics, medical-surgical nursing, educational administration, instructional design, and nursing research.
She spent lots of time cavorting with her two good friends Joyce Hope and Rosaleen Fitzgibbon and I know that the three of them are up there somewhere now, having a grand old time. She was loved and admired by the thousands of students who passed through her classroom and to whom she was a mentor. Her “former students” are everywhere. You would be hard pressed to walk into a hospital in the tri-state area with her and have her not be recognized by an adoring “former student” from Hunter.
As many of you know, my mother was also an active member of the community, belonging to the Community Board and Juniper Park Civic Association. She was a constant attendee at the local meetings and was never one to miss a “good fight” on the latest community issue where she would wait quietly and patiently in the wings until the right moment and then come forward and present her intelligent and articulate thoughts. She had a way of speaking that came across as measured, but powerful at the same time, which on occasion would give you the chills. She also loved to write her Community Spotlights for the Juniper Berry, whose features ran the gamut from the “cat lady” of Middle Village to our local 100 year old celebrity Carl Berner, whom she lovingly referred to as “my boyfriend”.
But above all else, my mother was a devoted wife to her husband of 37 years and loving mother to her only daughter and her beloved Misty-dog. She also adored her son-in-law Chris who has been a part of this family for a long time, but really cemented himself in for good this year. All four of us stand here today heart-broken. All four of us loved her to pieces.
But to be quite honest, some days I think that she probably loved the dog more than she loved the three of us …probably because Misty didn’t talk back and push back as much as we did. God she loved that dog. And the dog loved her probably twice as much and would cooperate only with her. Many a night me and Chris have spent negotiating with the dog in the hallway, but for my mother, she would turn on a dime. My mother would parade her around the neighborhood several times a day, wheeling and dealing gossip all along the way. She was very disciplined with her approach though, in that you had to “give something” to “get something good back”. You take that dog for a walk around the block and everyone knows that she’s “Margie’s dog”.
My mother was a well of advice for everyone she would meet, telling them instantly what to do and where to go and how to go about it best. She could talk to anyone and make them feel comfortable. For all her degrees and “high class” smarts, she was so incredibly down to earth. But she also had a way (and anyone who knows her can attest to this) of subliminally getting you to do what she wanted or letting you know when you had crossed the line with something. With me, it was the word “unacceptable”. When I was a kid (and the word still sends shivers down my spine), she was undoubtedly the disciplinarian in the family. She rarely yelled and never laid a hand on me. All she had to say was “That is unacceptable” in her stern tone of voice and it would stop me in my tracks.
As difficult as it is to let go of her right now, I can honestly say that I have very few regrets. This is a person I had a wonderful relationship with down to the last minute.
I’ve been teased for technically not leaving my parents house and going one step further and bringing other people in on the deal. But now I am so glad we never left because it allowed me to see her on a daily basis. In addition to a lifetime of memories, we’ve had a really great last couple of years, including a grand wedding where I had the honor of walking with her down the aisle arm in arm.
On a more day to day level…for the last three years…up until the day before she was diagnosed with her illness, we would meet every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for our “hour long” spinning sessions with a group of several other women, many of whom were half her age, with a third of her endurance. She convinced me to be the honorary teacher and it was her break, her outlet from reality three times a week. It gave us the chance to catch up, blow off steam, and gab and I viewed it as a standing commitment that ranked as a very high priority. It is the reason why (and again some of you may not have realized this) that if you tried to ask me to do happy hour, dinner, birthday cake, or anything else on these days between 6:30pm and 8pm, I would routinely blow you off, most times without giving an acceptable explanation. Now you know where I was and now you know that I would not take one single minute back.
For those of you that don’t know, my mother was also insufferably “hip” and “with it”. She could not live without her People and her Us magazines and we were both addicted to Dancing with the Stars. We didn’t admit this to too many people at the time, but we even went to see the Dancing with the Stars tour at the Nassau Coliseum and probably enjoyed it a little too much.
But the absolute highlight moment of memory reel was the U2 concert she attended with me a little over a year ago. Now if you know Chris and I…you will know how precious U2 tickets are to us. On a Monday night in November at Madison Square Garden, he gave up his ticket because we mutually agreed that she “should see the greatest rock band in creation ever to come from her homeland”. And for some reason, she went along with our crazy plan. I was worried that she wouldn’t like them or would get bounced around or I don’t know what. And in the middle of my worrying, with Bono singing his heart out, I look over and my little mother jumps up out of her seat saying….wait, I know this song….and starts singing out loud to “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”. My jaw just dropped. There is no value, no price tag for that ticket now.
I gave my mother a card about a month ago telling her that she was the “strongest person I know” for what she’d endured. It took her about 24 hours to acknowledge it and just as I was beginning to wonder if she had gotten it, she called me and told me that she had dated it (April 9th) and was going to put it in a very special place because it was her “most prized possession”. I have cried countless times over the last year (mostly in places that were out of her view and behind closed doors). She on the other hand cried exactly once….when she found out her chances for recovery were not good, she teared up for a brief moment. And I knew exactly why. She was sad not for herself, but for the four of us that she was leaving behind to fend for our sorry selves. On her worst day, she would tell you that she was “so-so” and I don’t think I could have endured what she did for as long as she did, with as much dignity as she did. She fought as hard as she could and was willing to keep going, but in the end her body just did not cooperate as much as we would have hoped it would.
When my mom got sick, Chris came up with a great idea for when she got better….that we would go to Ireland and climb “her mountain” “Croagh Patrick” in County Mayo. We had peps talks ready to go and buttons made up. Needless to say, we did not make it. But we promised her and each other that we will go and climb “her mountain” and will leave something there for her and bring her something back. Rumor has it that if you climb barefoot on the last Sunday of July, you will go straight to heaven. So if anyone is interested, you’re welcome to join us because I know I can use any help getting into heaven I can get.
As you can see, this woman was my friend, my confidant, my mommy, the first one I would call with good news, a juicy piece of gossip, or when I was in distress. I really truly have few regrets about the time we were blessed to spend with each other on this earth. I am just so sorry that we did not have more time and she has surely been taken away too soon. But as she used to say “This is all somehow part of the grand cosmic design.” I will miss her for the rest of my life and carry her strength and her energy and her spirit around with her in my heart.
My dear mother…may the Lord bless you and keep you. May his light shine upon you and may he grant you eternal rest in the name of the father and the son and the holy spirit. Amen.