About Love: Mary Theresa Gately

I was 18 years old and at college I’d completed an application to study abroad in Ireland in my junior year. To be selected, there was a panel interview involved as well. I was nervous of course. Sitting across from several professors from the college, the first thing anyone says to me is, “Donald, I think you made a mistake on your application. On the line for parent’s names, next to Mother, you wrote, “Mother Teresa”. I said, “You don’t know my mother; that was no mistake.”


I suppose it would be customary for someone standing here right now to say that I do not like to stand in front of people and speak. Of course, I can’t say this because we all know that’s not true. I love nothing more than to have the attention of a room full of people and I’ve learned to ignore the fact that many of them are rolling their eyes at me while I go on and on… (and by “many of them” I mean my brothers and sister). But we have my mom to blame for this. During my most formative years, and beyond, my mother would listen to me with rapt attention to whatever nonsense story or observation I was serving up. And it wasn’t just me; my mom did this for everyone. To be in my mom’s presence was to feel that you were the most important person in the world… Like no matter the weather, you were standing in sunshine.


My mom had a gift for this — a gift for making other people feel loved.

As a Middle School Principal, I sometimes get the opportunity to speak in praise of certain individuals. Someone receives an award or they retire and it is a privilege for me to talk about them. One of the things I like to do is to go back into their personnel files and see if there are copies of awards they received, news clippings or photos…
So I thought I would do something like this for my mom…

I looked for photos from these kinds of events in my mother’s life… her high school graduation… honor roll pins… GO card from Erasmus…. Girl Scout merit badges …. pictures of mom with her parents and all of her siblings… I couldn’t find any of this stuff…

I can show you the photos I found of my mother… lots and lots of photos of the five of her children getting awards… holy communions… graduating… getting married …

And in every photo, there’s my mom, standing there… her eyes red from crying… or smiling the widest smile you ever saw, because that’s how deeply and sincerely she loved her family…. Her happiest moments in life seemed to be when WE were happy – when WE were successful…


I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how I got to be the kind of person I am… Which of my traits, and my brother’s and sister’s, come from my mom and which come from my dad…

My dad has established himself as the strong, quiet one and I think the person I bring to work includes a lot of what I’ve inherited from my dad. Maybe a little stubbornness too, but that must come from my grandfather… apparently it skips a generation…

My mom was the sensitive and demonstrative one. She never shrank from showing emotion or from telling people how she felt about them — when it was good… (She was so effusive that I’ve often wondered whether she was really Irish.)

But my mom was strong also…

Neither of my parents were radicals or hippies by any stretch of the imagination. While the Grateful Dead were playing at Woodstock, my mom was washing our socks by hand 13 miles away at my grandfather’s bungalow in Lake Katrine. She single-handedly led a fight against thIMG_0220e corporation of Pathmark to require them to close the store across the street from our house on Sundays…

We made signs on Oak tag that said “Jesus yes: Pathmark no” and stuff like that and picketed the entrance to the store every Sunday. Every family on my block had at least 5 kids, so this protest movement must have resembled an episode from the Little Rascals. Not many people know this but my mom is one of few people in the world to have stared down New York State Senator Charles Schumer over this … I’ve always liked Chuck but I’d vote for Mary over  him any day… we lost that fight but you can be sure that my mom NEVER shopped at Pathmark on a Sunday.


I also remember an anecdote about my mother that either happened when I was really young or that I’m going to make up for the purposes of illustrating a point …

My mom stood in our living room once and proclaimed that she loved us more than any other mother on our street… I didn’t doubt it for a minute but it was annoying even then to hear my mom say it so often. You know how it is when your parents say mushy things to you when you’re a kid.

I guess she noticed us roll our eyes one too many times and she said that she was going to prove it to us… my mom said that she was going to stick her whole face into my sister Jackie’s wet Pishy diaper. This was before Huggies, we were wearing cloth, washable diapers. And she did it! My mom rubbed her face in my sister’s wet diaper! Half the room was horror stricken, the other half was like… that is so badass!

Well to this day I don’t know if that was real wet diaper or a clean one my mom used for effect…. but whenever I passed any of the other kids from our neighborhood — I didn’t say it out loud but inside I thought it to myself… my mom really does love me more than any other mother on our block loves their kids…

To have someone love you that deeply gives you a power that allows you to do amazing things… every person who knew my mom has that power because they are all part of our family… and my mom loved them.

My mother was very much loved.  I couldn’t find her merit badges or her high school diploma but I know that she would say her greatest accomplishment in life was her ability to love more deeply than most people are capable of… and we are all blessed for that…

We will be armed with that love every minute — every day — for the rest of our lives…

Thanks mom… thank you…

IMG_0991PS: My brother Marty confirms that the diaper story is TRUE!

About dfgately

Middle School Principal Jericho, NY
This entry was posted in Personal Best, Reflections, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to About Love: Mary Theresa Gately

  1. Adriana Milana says:

    Hi Don, Thank you for sharing your beautiful story. There’s nothing like a mother’s love. Hope you are doing well. I have been praying for your family. With warm regards, Adriana

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Denise PK says:

    Absolutely beautiful! Your mom was one of a kind. Honestly one of the sweetest people I have ever known. The one memory that I have etched in my mind is her impeccable handwriting. 🙂 I hope you are doing ok. I’m still praying for all of you.

  3. Don,
    The line that really resonates with me is, “No matter the weather, you were standing in sunshine.” Thank you for sharing her sunshine with all of us.

  4. Joy Wright says:

    Don, what a wonderful tribute noting the legacy of love she left to all of you.

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