Today, my dear friend, Maria Showalter, whom I have known for almost forty years, passed away after being taken off life-support and placed in hospice care after a second massive stroke. She had been making a remarkable recovery from an earlier stroke in July and this recurrence – and outcome – has been a horrific and devastating surprise to all who know her.
Maria is one of those people who never made headlines but should have, and NOT for having a wardrobe malfunction or doing any of the thousand frivolous things by which people in our society seek public attention. She should have made headlines for living a life of quiet grace, for an ability to see the best in and be an optimist about others; for her steadfastness and good cheer; for her unselfish caring for and service to the less fortunate; and for showing how friendships should be conducted and that what matters is not our possessions but our conduct towards others.
I have known Maria since 1972 (!), when we were both living at U Penn’s first attempt at a residential college. She was a native Philadelphian from storied Girls’ High, the top academic high school in the public school system. Maria, no more than probably 125 lbs. and 5’4″ tall, nevertheless helped form and row in the first women’s rowing club at Penn, which later became the women’s crew team. (There are amazing stories about their struggle for recognition and resources.) Maria graduated with a double major that included Economics, went on to get a Master’s degree and rose to a Director-level position within the IT function at Drexel University. While her husband’s calling as a Presbyterian minister meant assignments in Pittsburgh (PA), Dublin (CA), and Cincinnati (the current one), her value to Drexel allowed her to telecommute, requiring only that she make regular trips to Philadelphia for meetings. This also made it possible for her to see family and friends: we were able to have lunch several times a year and catch up in person on news and reminiscences in addition to regular calls.
How Maria was as a friend in our college years held constant during these subsequent decades. From the very beginning, I could always count on her laughing at my bad jokes, be a sounding board for ideas and a compassionate and caring listener to any woes, big or small. When I was laid up with a back injury in an almost-empty building during one Spring Break, Maria was one of three people who brought me food and kept me company. Later, when we jointly undertook planning alumni reunions of Van Pelt College House, it was Maria who pitched in the most with ideas and time to make them successful. She cared about nurturing community, and her constancy of caring and good cheer defined friendship for me: where we all TRY to be like that for our friends, Maria succeeded.
Words cannot really express how it will feel to be in a world diminished by her absence. Rather than simply mourn her passing when it happens, my early New Year’s resolution is to celebrate her qualities by resolving to bring more of them into the world by my own words and actions. I think Maria would approve of honoring her with that kind of living memorial.
I will miss her and our friendship terribly.