Marie Ellen Gallagher, unconventional. Independent. Maverick. Re-inventing. Entrepreneur. To us, she was Mom. Most others knew her as simply Marie. Far from the east coast and Lebanon, PA where she spent her youth, Marie left us on January 29th. Between her youth and her recent passing, a story with many full and rich chapters was lived.
While many people chose a more traditional path, Marie made her own. Her path did not define her; it was an embodiment of who she was. In 1937 Lebanon, or if you are from there you would pronounce it Leb-a-nin, was a town of 25,000 (which is similar to its current population) nestled in the southeastern part of Pennsylvania. The youngest of seven children born to Henry and Lizzie Thierwechter, Marie was favorably influenced by Lizzie; who like Marie did not let conventional wisdom stand in the way of living a full life. Marie shared many stories of her youth with us, and as child when you would visit Lizzie’s house, history and nostalgia filled every space. To us, these times were a mix of wonder, awe, a firm hand and lots of laughter. To the daughter, this was her home and time with the mother who raised her right, which Marie was proud to share with her family.
A small town can only hold someone with a more adventurous spirit for so long. So Marie took her many memories of home, her stellar grades and being Miss Street Fair for Lebanon to attend Penn State University. There she maintained her high academic achievements that included the study of genetics and being President of her sorority. While at Penn State Marie became the first college graduate in her family. And as can often happen in college she also fell in love with a handsome man from another small town in Pennsylvania named Vince Gallagher, whom she married.
The following years and chapters of her life included six states, nine cities, four children and many houses. Each stop along the way allowed opportunities for Marie to explore her abilities. You would have a hard time drawing a straight line in a career that connects a social worker, a pre-school teacher, a County Home Economist (with her own TV program), a real estate agent, a real estate broker and a bank director, and yet Marie did. Each step was an opportunity, some based on conditions and others based on her vision for a better life.
Not all career steps hold the same success or touch the same number of people. When the Gallagher family landed on Bainbridge Island in the mid-70’s, it was another opportunity for Marie to re-invent herself. She found consistent success as a real-estate agent. She later rented a small office just off Winslow Way, and with Erin by her side and some used office furniture, started Marie Gallagher & Associates where she continued her successful run in helping others fulfill their dreams of home ownership. This small office continued to grow. She later became associated with Coldwell Banker and at its height had over 30 agents in 2 offices. She sold this business and periodically would still sell a property up until a few years ago.
As her mother’s kitchen was before hers, Marie’s kitchen was always warm and vibrant. Anything could come out of her kitchen, and a lot of amazing things did, with one notable exception, except we won’t bring that one up. Baked, broiled, steamed, stir-fried, braised or boiled; the methods varied while food and the kitchen, as a place that brings people together, remained the same. There is a Pennsylvanian Dutch saying the goes, “food should be cooked with butter and love,” and while butter may have given way to olive oil now and again, love remained a staple of Marie’s kitchen.
Another legacy from Lizzie was success in the garden, which Marie has passed on to her children. Marie could coax seeds into becoming plants. From the high altitude of Flagstaff, Arizona to the moist conditions of the Pacific Northwest, flowers, plants, fruits and vegetables were part of the landscape of each house she had.
To say that Marie was active and social would be a bit of an understatement. There were bridge parties that went late into evenings. She wanted to ski and the Arizona Snow Bowl in Flagstaff, AZ is where the entire family learned. Later after moving to Washington many weekends were spent on the slopes at Stevens Pass. Another favored pastime was watching the Mariner’s, and while watching a game with Marie on television was lively, it did not come close to spending an afternoon or evening with her at Safeco Field.
There were those activities that she enjoyed and then there were some others that she had a passion for. One was golf. Playing it, watching it, playing it and one could even say playing it. She was captivated by the skill of the game when played well and enjoyed the competition against one’s self in addition to others. Boating was another. She loved boating, the journey to somewhere scenic, meeting other boaters and those quiet times that come with being on the water. And by this point in your reading, a consistent theme of Marie not being demure to a challenge is apparent. This also applied to boating where, Marie obtained her Captain’s license.
Then there was music and dancing. While they can be observed as separate passions they were complementary twins for Marie. Concerts, clubs, street musicians, recorded music, even her son-in-law Richard, playing his guitar would get her on her feet and moving. And when she danced, her eyes brightened and there was always a smile on her face. Her taste in music was quite broad as her CD collection is a testament to. The Blues held a special place with its impassioned storytelling and music that enhances those stories. As kids, we grew up with Mom and her Neil Diamond 8-track tapes and some Dave Brubeck on vinyl. She even once tracked down an artist that she heard on a Hawaiian radio station after she called the station and it was the artist itself who answered the phone.
Marie loved traveling. Seeing different places and interacting with different people. She was not a restless spirit as every home she had was much more than a collection of rooms with a roof; she simply saw that the world held many places that she had yet to see. There were family trips (four kids, a station wagon, roof rack and cross-country travels – ask any of us about it). Some were trips with spouses and there were others with friends. There were even trips by herself. Some were by car, some by plane, a whitewater raft, others by boat and still others by ship. The mode made no difference as what mattered was where she was going, what she would experience and who she would experience it with, with one exception.
Marie had a special relationship with her oldest grandchild, Tiana. Not only did G-ma play an influential role in Tiana’s life, they were also close friends who took a few epic trips together. Some may even describe them as Partners In Crime. Although no crimes were actually committed, many rules were definitely broken.
Later in life Marie once again fell in love. This time it was with a place. And after the many cities and countries that she visited (some on multiple occasions) Hawaii captured her fancy like no other place. Sure, originally golf was a draw, yet that gave way in importance to just being there. In the past years, as she grew tired from the cancer that while kept in check would never leave her body, she still traveled to Hawaii by herself. And, once she got there, you could hear more energy in her voice, more spirit and greater peace. Ua ola loko i ke aloha.
The spirit of aloha was not just when she visited Hawaii. Her travels to and from normally resulted in an interesting new friend or acquaintance. To be open to others and genuinely learning about them was one of Marie’s traits. It is not that she was fearless, which to some extent she was. She was genuinely curious about others and interacting with people. While she held firm to her convictions and opinions, she was open to hearing a different perspective.
As you have come to understand by reading this, Marie was an original in her own way, someone who touched and shaped many lives. For Marie, there was always something more. Not materially. There was more to do, more to experience, challenges to be conquered and life to be lived; these were the “more” that Marie personified. Throughout her life she was someone who would not allow the current conditions of her life to define her possibilities.
Even with a body that was failing her, Marie’s love for family and friends remained steadfast. In lieu of flowers, reach out to someone you love and tell them so in a meaningful way, then tell them “Marie would have wanted me to share this with you.” Do that and she will raise a glass to you with that sparkle in her eye and the warmth of her spirit.
Marie is survived by her daughters Kelly Franklin (spouse Mike), Laurie Maltman (spouse John), daughter Erin Whitson (spouse Richard) and son Sean Gallagher (wife Alisa). Her grandchildren are Tiana Gallagher, James Maltman and Simone Gallagher. Her friends are many.
The family would like to extend their heartfelt appreciation to Marie’s caregivers at Martha and Mary and Angel Next Door, all of whom aided both body and spirit. We are grateful.
A celebration of a life well lived will be held on Saturday March 17th at 2:00pm at Wing Point Country Club on Bainbridge Island, WA. Please sign the online guest book for the family. Arrangements entrusted Cook Family Funeral Home.