Barbara Mullarkey was a brilliant investigative contributor to Wednesday Journal and elsewhere, who was always several steps ahead of the culture, which frustrated her no end. It’s hard to be a pioneer. And she was on the cutting edge with natural foods for healing, holistic health-care options, the toxicity of pesticides and Round Up on lawns and in foods, the danger and sham of NutraSweet, GMOs, fracking, other environmental issues, electro-pollution and more. Writing about these distressing topics is challenging.

Since I also write and teach about holistic health topics, I know it is tricky to confront people with new information in a way that welcomes them into a new thought and paradigm, rather than turning them off, angering them and shutting them down. Gratefully, I inherited her food column in 1990, expanding on its health-related scope.

Barbara was the kind of woman Native Americans would call a Rainbow Mother, rather than a traditional nurturing mother type. She loved children and had five of her own — strong, lean, healthy, athletic, high-achieving kids. I remember her holding her first granddaughter and seeing the love just pour forth. Rainbow women are pulled to nurturing the spirit and essence of each child (and in her case, their health) and often find themselves surrounded with, and creatively supporting, large numbers of kids. I hear that every Halloween she’d create a Haunted House experience in her basement for about 100 kids. Rainbow Women’s homes are rarely very neat.

Barbara and her husband John allowed their son JP to take a gap year between his sophomore and junior years at OPRF (way ahead of their time) so he could study natural medicine, healing whole foods, and Chinese energy medicine since he was being pulled in that direction. So he and his sister Ellen ended up being seniors at OPRF High School together. JP excelled in basketball and was one of the valedictorians. Ellen was on the state volleyball championship team. Someone at Wednesday Journal interviewed Barbara with the question, “What did your do as a parent to nurture such stars?’ Her answer was simple, brilliant, immediate, profound: “I let them jump on the bed.”

Another memory was walking over to talk with her some afternoon after school when her high-performing kids were at Ascension and OPRF. I walked into their living room/dining room where some of her kids and some friends were all taking a nap on couches and other available surfaces. These high-performing athletic and academic kids were sleeping. After school! This was a regular occurrence. I don’t think I ever took a nap after school in my life. It seemed totally normal to her to have many kids, some not her own, sprawled out in her home. There was some wisdom there. We overschedule and overstress our kids so much. We all need rest to perform well.

I appreciated our decades-long friendship. Every time I walk or lie on the grass in any village park, I’m grateful to you, Barbara (and the Park District of Oak Park), for lawns that are free of toxic pesticides, and for the persistence you had to help manifest this feat as well as whole health options for people and the planet.

Since it’s hard to have a memorial in these virus times, I and our mutual friend Leslie Primus and family extend our deep sympathies to Barbara’s children, family, neighbors and friends. Rest in peace, courageous soul. And for anyone who wants to honor Barbara, you can plant an organic veggie garden and share this feast. Also, say no to Monsanto’s Round Up and GMOs, let go of your artificial sweeteners, find a way to have a natural green lawn and plant some native plants, choose some integrative health-care options to prevent diseases, learn ways to remediate the electro-pollution from your technologies and engage with any of the amazing local green teams to help environmental sustainability. Lie and play on your clean grass.

And bounce on your bed.

Gina Orlando is a longtime Oak Park resident.

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