Barbara Mullarkey

Odds and ends with some a bit odder than others:

Barbara Mullarkey died last week. In her home on Elmwood with her family around her. She was a great and remarkable person. A pistol. A pip. A pain. A prognosticator. And so kind. You’d have to be a longtime Journal reader to remember Barbara’s columns which were titled, “Nutrition and You.” Sounds generic enough. Eat your vegetables. Drink milk. Be healthy. But no, it wasn’t that. 

Nutrition and You, which ran from our start in 1980 and well into the 1990s, was more a chemistry lesson, a class in physiology. And, by the way, don’t drink milk. Dairy is bad for you.

That was one of the times when my innocent jaw dropped. Milk. Eggs. Not good? Can’t be right. Well, OK, maybe there are issues. Barbara wrote for years — that would be twice a month for years — about Aspertame, the stuff that made Diet Coke not taste bad but didn’t have calories. It was a crusade against chemicals in food and drink. It was a crusade against corporate titans and greed. I finally told her she had to write about something other than Aspertame at least once in a while. Her columns were giving me a headache, just like Diet Coke did.

So that was the beginning of pesticides in the parks. I thought, come on, maybe pesticides aren’t great but what about all those dandelions in the outfield? Unsightly and a tripping hazard, in my mind. But the park district was no match for Barbara’s relentlessness, and over time much of the rest of the world sided with her, and pesticides were banned in the parks.

When FitzGerald’s changed owners recently, I recalled in this space that in the spring of 1980 a small crew of us boldly left the failing Oak Park News with the dream of starting our own local paper. We had our first planning meeting at the Deer Lodge, a lost-in-time bar on Roosevelt Road which, unbeknownst to us, was about to be sold to the FitzGerald family. Among the handful of us at the corner table that night, along with my two co-founders, Anne Duggan and Sharon Britton, was Barbara. 

This woman had a love-but-I’m-very-annoyed-with-you relationship to “Oaky-Parky.” But she was pure-hearted and, damned if she wasn’t almost always right.

How are you doing?: It has been intensely busy around here. How about with you? No matter how early I start working, whether it is a Monday or Tuesday in our offices on Oak Park Avenue, or the other five days at my dining room table, every time I look up it is 4:30 and my list is still overlong. 

The days and weeks are shapeless. Too cold (snowy!) to work in the garden. Zoom meetings are great but they’re also wearing me out. Intermittent crabbiness is seeping in. On the fourth email exchange today about a minor copy-saving housekeeping issue my phone rang and a colleague said, “I thought if I sent you one more email your head would explode. Let’s just talk about this.” I really miss “just talking about this” with a person leaning against my office doorway. Solving the problem. Moving on. I’m supposed to be the happy guy whistling in the hallway. Now I’ve got people worrying my head is going to explode. And I’m doing personal therapy in a newspaper column. 

Might need to take a full day off and … no, I don’t what I’d do.

With many thanks: Growing Community Media, our nonprofit entity, was one of 11 local nonprofits that received grants last week from the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation’s Rapid Response and Recovery Fund for COVID-19. We are in remarkable company. Also being supported are the African-American Christian Foundation, Beyond Hunger, Housing Forward, Leyden Family Services, New Moms, Oak Leyden Developmental Services, Sarah’s Inn, SisterHouse, Thrive Counseling Center, and the West Cook YMCA. 

Our deep thanks for this support and recognition of the importance of our efforts in these hard days.

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...