Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Marilyn Todesco, R.I.P.

This evening my closest friend at Wheaton College, Marilyn Todesco, passed away after a difficult and intense battle with renal cancer. Marilyn became sick back in late November, had what seemed like successful surgery, and was supposed to back to work at the beginning of June. On Memorial Day weekend we learned that her cancer had returned in very aggressive form.

The great things a person does in life should define them, not their disease, so I want to use the rest of this post to talk about how important Marilyn was to me personally, to our department and to our building.

Marilyn was the building secretary for Meneely Hall, which meant she handled the needs of English, Hispanic and Italian Studies, and German as well as every faculty member who couldn't figure out the copy machine, every student confused about classes and every other possible problem that arose.

Her office was, in the words of the poet Sue Standing, our hearth, and the fire burning in that hearth was Marilyn's personality. Always ready with a laugh or a word of comfort, always calm even in the midst of chaos, always caring even at the most stressful times, Marilyn held everything together. If our building was a remarkably collegial place, it was mostly due to her, to our desire to please her (she disliked conflict) and her ability to listen.

Marilyn was the first person I met at Wheaton after being hired there. She sent me around on all my errands across campus (locksmith, human resources, mail room, information technology), and then she chatted with me about her family, her dog and life in general. This started a pattern. Every day I would come in 15 minutes early so that I'd have time to stand in Marilyn's office and talk to her.

Her granddaughter was born about a year after my daughter, and so Marilyn and I would swap child stories and show artwork and pictures and enjoy raising kids together. Marilyn was very good on life advice. When my wife was pregnant, she and I had one of those fights that are in retrospect idiotic, but at the same time impossible to stop. I was telling Marilyn about it the next day. "Go home, unplug the electric pencil sharpener" (this was the source of the stupid fight) "and bring it down and put it in your office," said Marilyn. Her advice worked, and she always got a laugh out of telling the story.

Marilyn had me keep my eye out for students who might want to work in the office. She trained them, trusted them, befriended them, and in the end often did more good than any other individual on campus. I know of more than one student whom she physically walked over to the counseling center and into an appointment. I can think of two students whose lives, it is only a minor exaggeration to say, she saved. I saw her put band-aids on students' hands, give out water, candy and tissues, and more importantly, provide a ready ear and a mind that knew every single thing about Wheaton College.

If it weren't for Marilyn, there would be no Tolkien Studies, no Bibliography project, no high level of productivity. If it weren't for her, I don't think I would have survived my first few years at Wheaton. If not for her, I might not have gotten through the really difficult months of adjusting to a new child and then, later, to a second child.

My children loved Marilyn and couldn't wait to see her. She was one of the first adults outside of the family with whom they had a relationship, and she was the first person at Wheaton I brought my kids to meet when they were only a month old and I carried them in the baby bucket.

She loved the college, and she loved each of us, "her professors." She knew us, understood us, and took care of us. Only her family was more important.

I joked once to Marilyn, about three years ago, that there were only four people on campus who were impossible to replace. Everyone else, all the faculty, the administration, etc., could go, but there were four people Wheaton couldn't do without. She was number one on that list. No one in the room disagreed.

I don't know how we will go on without her. I think we have already learned how much of a difference one person can make, and it will only get worse as we realize that she really is not coming back. Now we will have to try to live up to the standard she set.

I am heartbroken, but also grateful that I got to spend 9 years of my life with such a good, true friend. I will always miss her.


Jason Fisher said...

I am so very sorry to hear this. My heart goes out to you, your family, and her family. Be well.

meredith arwen said...

May she rest peacefully, and may what was good in her live on in those she touched.

I'm so sorry.

John Cowan said...

My sympathies as well.

My attention was immediately caught by the surname Todesco, which I had never seen before. On investigation, it turns out to be one of the many variants of the Italian surname Tedesco, meaning of course 'German', and borne by both Italians of actual German extraction and by Italian Jews -- the latter a fascinating group in themselves, many of them the direct descendants of Jewish settlers from Imperial days, and as such technically neither Ashkenazim nor Sephardim.

There is a Palais Todesco, on the Ringstrasse in Vienna, formerly occupied by an aristocratic family of that name, and until 1995 the headquarters of the Austrian People's Party, the Christian Democratic party of Austria.

Do you know anything about Marilyn's family history?

Unknown said...

On behalf of my family again I would just like to say thank you for all the kind words you said about my mother. She is a kind loving person and i miss her very much. I still cant beleive when i wake up in the morning i cant call her and hear her voice or jump in car and go over to see her. She has been the rock of our family and what is keeping us going is hearing all the kind words that people have to say about my mother. On Tuesday when she passed away my life was changed forever. We were all sitting around her when she passed away and we all got to say good bye. That is the way she wanted it. She told me when she came home from the hospital that she wanted everyone in the house so me and my girlfriend stayed there for the last 3 weeks and somebody was up with her 24 hours a day making sure she was comfortable and never in pain. That was our goal for her not to suffer. And we succeeded. She is an amazing person, wife and mother. She always put herself last. Even when she was laying in bed she called me over to ask if threr was enough toilet paper in the house. That is what she was worried about. She was not worried about herself she was worried about us. I cant express how much my mother means to me and my family all i can say is that I LOVE HER AND I WILL MISS HER VERY MUCH. I know she is in heaven looking down at us still taking care of her family and friends. Even though she is no longer on this earth she is still with me. She is in my heart, in my life and in my prayers. Thank you again for all the kind words I know she appreciates it also. Love Robert Todesco

theswain said...

My most sincere condolences, Mike, to you, the Wheaton community, and the Todesco family.

I will not only be including you all in my prayers and thoughts today, but later today I will be sure to lift a glass in toast to a life well-lived, to Marilyn Todesco.

Dr. Richard Scott Nokes said...

My condolances.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Mike, I just read this (no internet for the most part since getting to the UK). I'm so very sorry.

Unknown said...

I am very sorry for your loss. Please accept my sincere condolences.

Sceopellen said...

My blessings go out to you all. She sounded like an amazing person and a true friend to all.

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