The recent column by Mary Kay O’Grady acknowledging her diagnosis of dementia, was heart-wrenching in its honesty prompting a bouquet of memories! [To these I drink tonight, Viewpoints, Jan. 6]. Before she became a fixture in Oak Park, Mary Kay was a resident in the D.C. area, a homeowner on Sunset in LaGrange, and later in Willowbrook. Her career as a communications consultant made her vital to area school districts and the South Suburban Association of Realtors. Her own photography of events and her snappy newsletters allowed area parents to keep abreast of educational issues before their respective boards.
I admired that she willingly sought input from the Leadership Council for Open Metropolitan Communities regarding Fair Housing and the challenging issues of fast-moving integration. Her organization, her adherence to deadlines, and her own professional tone in her conversation were her calling cards. This has continued in her visible writing while in Oak Park.
We reconnected when we both relocated to Oak Park as single women. She invited me to join her for glasses of Pinot Grigio on her gracious back balcony, as we recounted our separate journeys. For her 60th birthday, she hatched a plan that we should go to Paris! After arranging everything from hotel to flights, she found 20+ friends and kids in attendance. What a merry group. She sang to us at a posh French bistro, as she might have done as a cabaret singer. Her love of the city was infectious.
Later I joined her on Washington Island to stay in a remote, grungy trailer in order to be in the perfect location for sunsets. Fish boils, the Icelandic pebble beach, the stunning, shimmering birches were all highlights. Her love of sunsets continued with invitations to Key West in February to escape the winter. She knew the jazz hangouts and the Hemingway legends. Great times.
Her 70th birthday at Hemmingway’s here in Oak Park included her children, Rob and Meg, who had joined her living in Oak Park. Some of the same faces from the Paris adventure were also present. I seem to remember a bagpiper and more singing. Her ability to create the milieu of fine dining, creative conversation, and fashion statement are keys to her charm.
While she has chronicled much of the last decade through her blog posts, and you now recognize her acerbic wit, political insight, and strong opinions, I wanted to share some backstory to the redhead you know today. May she stand tall, work hard, and never admit defeat in the face of this mighty challenge.