A West Chicago youth football team wearing pink socks; health organizations from Aurora, Barrington and Naperville preparing pink-themed videos. Those are just two of the stories we've run during breast cancer awareness month. That's fitting, as the disease seems to have hit close to home for virtually everyone.
This past week was no exception at the Daily Herald, as we learned of the death of Mary Jo Porter, who worked as a community news coordinator in our Lisle office from 1994 until her retirement in 2008. She was a breast cancer survivor for nine years, and never uttered a word of complaint while fighting the disease. But years of chemotherapy took its toll, and after four heart attacks in seven months, she died Sept. 23.
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Mary Jo was 67.
Here's an excerpt from a column I wrote Nov. 28, 2008, upon news of Mary Jo's retirement:
"You rarely see her byline in the paper, but she helps us maintain our local focus in ways big and small.
"Mary Jo has been with us since 1994, and has spent all that time doing the unheralded, but essential, tasks of a community news coordinator -- duties that have ranged from backing up our switchboard operator to clerical work to, most significantly, getting community news items in our Neighbor editions. I suspect Mary Jo is better known to some segments of the community than our reporters. And, to illustrate the impact Mary Jo has made on the newspaper, consider this:
"She came across a news release announcing Community High School in West Chicago was honoring alumni Kurt Johnson. She saw that Johnson's story of how he founded the humanitarian group that rescues Iraqis who are marked for death for helping the U.S. during the war might warrant more than a quick news blurb in Neighbor. The result was a Page 1 'centerpiece' a few weeks ago."
Mary Jo wasn't one to toot her own horn. Her daughter Michelle confirmed what I suspected: Mary Jo had never mentioned the glowing praise she received in my column.
She had an unfairly short but quality retirement, traveling to Paris, Greece, Italy and other places with Michelle and her brother Michael, with whom Mary Jo lived in Miami after retiring. She also was eager to retire to watch her granddaughter Dakota, now 9, grow up.
She was a terrific grandmother and a parent who "was there for everything" her kids were involved in, Michelle says. She also imparted these words of wisdom to her children: "Always make the time to listen ... Mom always did that without fail," Michelle said.
That's the Mary Jo her co-workers remember, too -- a tireless, dedicated worker who always had time to help or counsel others. "A smile that lit up a room," one added.