By Barbara Williamson-Wood
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At twenty-five Katie graduated from college with the highest grades ever. Being a woman was difficult enough in 1926 and receiving a degree in Criminal Law was practically unheard of.
Coming from strong Irish stock had a lot to do with it, at least that is what John McCormick firmly believed and passed this strong sense of pride and determination on to his children. Katie Rose being the oldest, knew the road that she would pave for her siblings. Family was important to this Irish family from Brooklyn and this young woman was going to do the best she could with her life.
Katie worked long hard hours at Matthews and Brewster Law Office. In the beginning the only cases that were assigned to her were divorce proceedings, to file. Yes file. Mr. Brewster thought she made a nice secretary. After six months of gopher work Katie had it. Highly agitated, she walked right into that geezer’s office and slammed the door behind her.
“Look Mr. Brewster, I did not go to law school to be a secretary. I ‘m a good lawyer and I will prove it.”
“Fine Kate, here get your feet wet. Here’s a case for you. It’s yours.” Mark Brewster said as he threw the case file across his desk. “Let’s see how you handle this one.” He sat there waiting for her to back off.
Katie became silent as she looked as the file. A young, homeless man was charged with robbery. Katie had to defend him. She wondered if she bit off more than she could chew. Seeing Katie’s ’apprehension of the case , Brewster leaned back in his chair smoking his cigar , started to laughed.
“What is the matter Katie girl, too much of a job for you? I can get one of the boys to take the case. You can go type some letters,” he said nearly choking on his cigar smoke as he continued to laugh at her.
That was all she needed. Katie looked at him, picked up the file and said ,” It’s mine. I will take this case on and win. Furthermore, when I do you can give me a raise and treat me like a member of this law firm. Got it !” With that said Katie left slamming the door so hard the window came out of the doorframe and smashed on the floor.
She did win the case and many after that and she made Brewster stick to their bargain. Katie was tough, but she was also fair. Even the judges thought Katie was a great Orator. She was not going to back down to anyone. Yes, that Irish Blood worked in her favor.
Katie McCormick was such a success that in 1935 McCormick Law was formed. She was a fantastic defense Attorney and many of her male colleagues had respect for her. Life was getting better go her. John McCormick was right , his girl was going places.
Going she did, right down the aisle dressed in white on her father’s arm. It was a beautiful day in June in 1938 when Katie became Mrs. Sean O’Leary. She met Shaun on a family visit to Dublin and instantly fell in love. Sean followed her home, got a job with the local newspaper office and started to court her. He promised they would be together forever and raise many children. He made is word good.
Katie and Sean started their family and raised three sons and a daughter. Sadly however, Katie lost her little girl to pneumonia in 1943. One rainy afternoon, she called Sean at his office and told him that Meagan was running a fever. “Sean , I have tried everything I can’t get the fever down and the doctor is on his way,” she told the worried father. However, it was too late. Meagan could not hold on and died. It took every inch of courage from her spirit to go on, to forge ahead and hope for the best.
Life did go on for Katie and her family. Adored by all that knew her, from the social gatherings at the Country Club, to conducting the ladies Choir at St. Agatha’s on Sunday morning. Yes, she always stood out from the crowd. She was a go-getter. Learning everything that she could was important to her.
Ever since Meagan died she seemed to be like a whirl wind, constantly on the go.
“Slow down Katie, you’ll make yourself sick. I don’t want anything happening to you. I love you so much.” Sean would tell her often.
“I can’t slow down. I have two trials to prepare for and they have to be ready by 8:00 am Monday morning. It is already Thursday and I need to work on my opening statement. “ How can I slow down Sean? You just don’t understand.”
When it came to arguments Sean could not win against Katie. She had been a lawyer for some time and became better over the years.
“All right, my dear I only want you to pace yourself. Promise me, ok?”
“I will. I will, don’t worry so much.” Katie told him and gave him a reassuring hug.
Though her life never did slow down. Katie would take charge at the Country Club where she was on a committee that needed her help again . This time it was for raising funds for the children’s hospital.
“Mrs. O’Leary, I wonder if I can have a moment of your time.” It was Rev. Martelli from St. Agatha’s .
Standing next to the busy woman was her sister Nancy who seemed worried about Katie’s health. Katie needed to take off a few days last week just to get some rest.
“Katie, tell him No, whatever he wants. You are so wrapped up now with all these charities your doing, plus you still busy at the Law firm. You are going to collapse . Look at you ! You are hardly home, you have lost weight and you’re tired . You need a break from everything. Why don’t you and Sean take a vacation?”
“Shh! I can’t say “No “ to the Rev. Martelli. He is expecting me to come up with new music for Sunday Mass.” Katie said as she reached her hand for the priest.
Again she was busy doing everything. Sean worried , but it was no good to get his wife to change her ways, especially after all this time. All he could do was stand by and watch helplessly as his wife wore herself out.
“Nancy I am worried about her. Katie can’t keep this up forever. It seems she has been like this ever since Meagan died . I am afraid this is going to kill her.”
“Your a good Man Sean O’Leary, but you know my sister. She will slow down when she feels like it, or when God decides for her.”
It seems that God did hear Sean after all. He was merciful to her. She had to be stopped without taking her life.One cold November morning in 1985, Katie tried to get out of bed and get dressed. She had made plans for Thanksgiving and needed to get started right away. Alone in the house, no one heard her fall. Katie could not move or cry out for help.
“Katie, Katie girl where are you ? " Sean called out to her. He heard no answer then noticed the upstairs lights were still on. Quickly he ran to her, but there was nothing he could do.
“Your wife has had a stroke Mr. O’Leary. There is nothing more that we can do for her. Time will tell but there is a very good chance that she will never talk again or be able to walk again, let alone take care of herself. I am sorry” Dr Avada told the teary eyed husband.
Here she sits in this room day after day. I have learned what her life was like from listening to her family and looking at her journal that she carefully wrote in day after day. It was almost like she knew something was bound to happen to her.
To look at her now and reflect upon her life and all her accomplishments is heart rendering. Reading through her chart I see she had a stroke in 1985. What really has annoyed me is the way the staff treat her, even her own family. The stroke has left her speech inaudible, so it is assumed that Katie has no comprehension of what is going on around her. She is placed in her wheelchair and ignored.
I realize that I am new to this facility; however there is no reason in my mind a little compassion and understanding could not be shown. As the charge nurse on night duty, I envy the dayshift. How I would relish the chance to talk to her, confide in her , listen to her. Yes! Listen to her with the voice bottled up in that frail heart. I can almost hear what she says to everyone.
“Listen to me,” she would say. “ I had a stroke. I was somebody and I am not ignorant. Don’t treat me like I can’t understand you. I just cannot talk to you. My hands are frozen branches unable to move, but I am still a mighty oak.”
Yes I believe that is what Katie would tell me if she could. I leaned down to take her pulse and as if she was reading my thoughts, Katie gently reached for my hand, smiled and gave a little nod. I held back the tears for her sake and I know in my heart what she was telling me. Not just thank you, but welcome to my world...