Perhaps, because I make a living as a writer, I see our lives segmented into chapters filled with the excitement of new beginnings and celebrations, everyday struggles and successes, major challenges and the sadness of final partings.
This past week, with the passing of Mary Alice O’Connor, I sadly closed a chapter of my life.
As I held Mary Alice’s hand and kissed her forehead for the last time, I thought about her husband, the legendary Disney artist, Ken O’Connor, who passed away in 1998. Ken viewed life in a different way than me. As a visual artist, he saw life as a succession of portals through which we pass — the mandatory portals of birth and death, and the portals of choice that we cross or avoid to make our lives better or worse. Ken made that belief manifest on canvas in his thought-provoking painting, “Portals.”
Then there was the way Mary Alice viewed life. As a dedicated volunteer who perceived needs and diligently worked to meet them, she saw life as a continuous succession of meetings — only interrupted by actually carrying out the work planned in those meeting to make life better for others.
In our last conversation she told me how fortunate she was to have had a family who supported her volunteerism and community commitment.
“My family always teased me that I was either at a meeting or planning the next one,” she told me with a laugh.
Having covered fundraisers, charity events and volunteer efforts for the Burbank Leader for two decades, I have written about Mary Alice more than anyone else, hands down. That was simply due to the fact that it was difficult, if not impossible, to find a local cause or need that she was not involved with.
Always positive and optimistic, Mary Alice changed people’s lives for the better. She did that for untold thousands, and she did that for my wife and me by embracing us as family.
To me, Mary Alice’s passing is the closing of a chapter. To Ken, it will be the opening of a portal that will reunite him with the woman he shared with the world as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother.
But to Mary Alice, it will be the challenge of new volunteer opportunities. While she hasn’t been there long, I’m sure by now she has already surveyed the better part of Heaven, identified what needs exist, and is busy establishing and chairing a few newly formed angelic committees to address them.