360Women

Mary Lou (and The Power of Inclusion)

The whole reason I started 360Women is because I have many hopes for all of us; for each of you.  One of them is that sometime in your life (and hopefully for a long portion of it) you’ll experience a life-expanding relationship like I did with my friend, Mary Lou.

I met Mary Lou years ago when I was the mother of two young children and she had another five.  Keeping them all busy often meant getting them out of the house, so being friends with Mary Lou meant being a big, big fan of road trips. My love of travel had already been awakened during my early career with the airlines (see last summer’s blog Go!), but travels with Mary Lou were a whole different kind of adventure.

Every spring, we would drive down to Palm Springs in a long station wagon loaded with a minimum of seven anxious children and two fearless adults.  We often encouraged our children to bring guests for the week, and they were carefully squeezed into the back two rows. (Obviously, this all occurred long before California seat belt laws).

San Francisco to Palm Springs is a simple seven-hour drive, even with a rest stop and quick meal. Leave early in the morning and you can arrive by mid-afternoon.

That plan didn’t work for my dear friend.  She was, after all, an adventurer who believed the journey was as important as the destination. So, she insisted we pick the children up after school and drive four hours until all little travelers were hungry, tired and having a mini-melt down. Then we would check into a motel, get everyone bathed and fed, and hit the sack by about 10pm. The next morning at 8am we would sound the travel alert, march everyone to a nearby IHOP for breakfast and get back on the road to complete our journey.

Since Mary Lou was not only an energetic but inquisitive woman, neither day of our drive was ever a straight shot to our destination. It was imperative, for instance, that we stop at The Date Store just an hour from the Palm Springs, so our designated driver could have her favorite Date Shake.

We enjoyed dozens of pilgrimages to numerous destinations, including Disneyland, Santa Cruz and Solvang. Some of these made us laugh so hard our stomachs ached by the time we checked into our hotel.  Other times, I seriously wanted to wring her neck because she insisted on taking side trips to visit off-the-map locations she had read about in a travel article.

But that was the real magic. In retrospect, the spontaneous stops for the best soup, the giant dinosaur statue, the “world famous” apple pie are too numerous to mention, but what I (and my children) remember most about our spring vacations.  Her desire to include as many new experiences in every moment of every day added a whole new dimension to our little adventures.

Mary Lou was one of my closest friends and one of the best that I will ever have.  So, although I lost this amazing woman many years ago, it has taken me more than a year of writing blogs to finish this one.

I thought this would be one of my first posts when I launched 360Women last year, but her death left a huge hole in my heart and I just didn’t have the strength.  Until now.

Mary Lou taught me many lessons in our years together, but the most important may be what I will define as the power of inclusion.  She had the uncanny ability to build up the self-esteem of others – particularly children – simply by ensuring they were invited to participate in the experience.

This doctrine of inclusion extended to every child she encountered in sports fields, on theatre stages or at her own backyard birthday parties.  Whenever she noticed a young boy or girl hanging around the edges of a group with a wistful look, wishing they could join, Mary Lou would walk right over, engage them in conversation and then encourage them to join in.

Her next move was usually to walk this shy child over to the leader of the pack and made sure the game continued with the new participant. No person in her presence would be allowed to say anything critical or hurtful about a child or anyone else who may have had difficulty keeping up.

Through her actions and commitment, she taught young people and adults alike the importance of being inclusive – both on the field and off.  That the game, the experience and life itself are far richer when we invite others into it.

That is the legacy of Mary Lou and I cannot help thinking of her in this season of political selection. I cannot help wondering what she would make of the hurtful, hateful language so many of us are spewing and the long-lasting impact it will have on our national self-esteem.

I, for one, will choose to honor her memory and remain a believer in the power of inclusion.

“We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.” – Stacia Tauscher

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Lee Ann Monfredini

Lee Ann Monfredini

Lee Ann Monfredini is the founder of 360Women and a life-long advocate of women’s issues, political activism, social volunteerism, organizational accountability and personal responsibility. A graduate of the University of San Francisco with a degree in Non-Profit Management, she’s not only served on the boards and executive teams of some of the most respected health organizations in the Bay Area, but built a successful second career as one of the most respected realtors in the market. She can be reached at leeann@360women.net.

14 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Mary Lou’s children learned the importance of inclusion early on and it has made all five of them exceptional parents, adults and role models for their families and friends. She left us all way too soon but our memories of her never fade.

  • Dear Lee Ann,
    You have written an incredibly beautiful and sincere tribute to a wonderful woman. You brought back a lot of great memories of a special time. I was so so lucky to have had two such strong women as sisters-in-law, and both such great mentors as mothers and individuals of character. Now unfortunately both gone, undoubtedly needed up “in Paradiso,” but still looking out for all of us. Mary Lou would be very pleased by your words.
    Bacioni, Leana

  • Fabulous!!! You said it all. Weren’t we all lucky to have had her in our lives… for way too short a time. Thanks, Lee

  • What a women, what a mom, what a friend, what a role model and what a good friend you are to be able to capture her! She was such a gem.. and so missed by her friends.. there truly was no one like her. These memories keep her and our friendships alive. Bravo, Lee Ann!

  • That was such a nice read, Lee Ann. What a great tribute to Mary Lou. I am sorry for your loss. You were lucky to have a friend like her.

  • Wow!
    Excellent story, great memories, and a lesson to be learned by all of us who knew and loved her.
    Nicely done.

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