Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Mother’s Day Tribute to the Matriarch of this Great Irish Clan

This past mother’s day weekend we buried the matriarch of our peace-loving, hard-fighting, hard-drinking, Irish-American clan.  Margeret (Peg) Sheehan Fitzgerald Gallagher was 96-years old when she succumbed to a hemorrhagic stroke, but she had become legendary among Omaha’s peace-makers for her integrity, courage and tenacity.  Never before had 4 Irish names been strung together so beautifully.

As a youth she  baby-sat an infant Marlon Brando in diapers.  She raised three sons with her first husband, Douglass County Attorney Eugene Fitzgerald.  As a widowed mother she had founded the first women-owned and operated real estate agency in Omaha with a friend when established companies refused to hire her.   
When my father was a college student at Stanford in the midst of the Vietnam war, news of his hunger strike at the Dean’s office against weapons research at the University reached journalists in Omaha.  One of them writing in the newspaper asked Peg what she thought about her son causing trouble when he was meant to be graduating from College.  Her answer was sincere and profound: “If what he is saying is true, I have to look more into this.”  Some fifty years later, at age 91 she was still in the news, laying down in the door way of Omaha’s Qwest Center toblock the entrance of a weapons’ convention until officers of the OPD lead her into a waiting Paddy Wagon.
Peg Gallagher after misdemeanor arrest at the Qwest Center. Photo Credit: Omaha World Herald.
As a 90 year-old at her sentencing hearing for this protest she told the judge that she did not believe she should have to pay a fine for doing the right thing.  When the judge threatened her with jail time if she refused to pay, which she was willing to accept.  The judge told her that he was as “bull-headed” as her conscience, but, perhaps thinking the better of it, he offered her probation and community service.  Peg’s conscience graciously accepted.

As she waved the American flag at weekly anti-war protests at 72nd and Dodge, occasional oppositionists would challenge her patriotism.  But she would say she loved her country like she loved her family.  She was quick to tell her family when she thought they were not acting right. 
 The priest leading her eulogy urged the audience to come forward and fill the void left by Peg’s passing.  However, the passage that brought those gathered to tears of pain and joy, however, was a reading of Isaiah 58:1-12:
“Is this not the fast that I choose: to end injustice, to break the chains of bondage, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”

She was dedicated to peace and justice, and she was willing to be challenged.  Her activism was grounded in Christian teaching and informed by a love for her country.  So who among us will live by her example: to carry ourselves with dignity and integrity; to treat our neighbors and family with love and respect; and to speak out to end war and injustice?