saying good-bye to Pat

The Binghamton NY area lost one of its stars. Literally. Patricia Donohue, an actor and activist, who has a star on the Binghamton Walk of Fame, died in September. Pat had a long career on the stage, as a young woman with Tri-Cities Opera and then many decades as an actor in our local area and beyond.

The first time I saw Pat perform was as Emily Dickinson in The Belle of Amherst, but I will remember her most fondly playing Jeannette Picard in Solo Flight, a one-woman play about the balloonist and wife/mother who was ordained an Episcopal priest before it was officially approved.

I knew Pat because we were both members of Sarah’s Circle, a small group of (mostly) women grounded in the Catholic faith tradition who supported women’s ordination and full participation in the life of the church. A number of members felt called to ordination themselves. We met for prayer, discussion, and mutual support but sometimes did public events, such as prayer services.

For the twentieth anniversary of the ordination of Jeannette Picard and the rest of the Philadelphia Eleven, Sarah’s Circle sponsored Pat performing Solo Flight in Columbus Circle in Syracuse, in front of the Catholic cathedral.  We were met by a raucous group of counter-protesters. Pat, the consummate professional, performed spectacularly, despite protesters marching within arm’s length, at times. Toward the end of the performance, we were finally able to get the police to clear the public area in the Circle for which we had a permit and the protesters did not. Instead, they shouted the Rosary from the Cathedral steps, which is a misuse of a lovely, contemplative prayer. It was a shame that they never bothered to listen to Pat recreating the remarkable life of Jeannette Picard.

Although I marveled at Pat’s abilities as an actor, it was her passion for people that shone most brightly. She was often seen, sporting one of her favorite hats and leopard print scarves, at rallies with Citizen Action for a variety of progressive causes, such as civil rights, access to affordable health care, and environmental protection. She performed with and wrote songs for the Citizen Action “Raging Grannies” – although she preferred the moniker “Swinging Seniors.” She also performed with the Mental Health Players, bringing attention and support to those with mental health issues.

She was always ready to share her time and support with others. Because both my daughters were interested in theater, Pat would attend their performances. She even let T borrow from her beloved hat collection for her role in Damn Yankees. Many of Pat’s hats were lost when the storage room of her senior apartment building flooded, but T was happy to see that the hats she had borrowed had survived and were part of a display at Pat’s memorial.

I was also touched that, draped over the end of Pat’s casket, were an Irish-themed quilt – Pat was proud of her Irish ancestry – and the stole she had worn when performing Solo Flight, which featured hot-air balloons, because Rev. Jeanette Picard had, in her younger years, been a stratospheric balloonist.

I’m sure that Pat would have approved of the memorial. The friends and family members who spoke all had wonderful stories to tell recalling her flair, passions, and wit. Our Sarah’s Circle friend Pat Raube sang a hymn that she had sung as a prelude to Pat’s performances of Solo Flight; I admit it was hard not to cry at that point. Another friend, Father Tim, was the presider for the service.

While we will all miss Pat, I am grateful that she was granted so many years among us and that she was active into all but her final days. We will each need to give a bit more of our energies to causes she cared about, although no one can truly replace her in our personal and community lives.

I’m sure her spirit will live on.

SoCS: the meaning of names

On Wednesday, I went to hear my friend Pat Raube and Martha Spong  of RevGalBlogPals read from their new book, There’s a Woman in the Pulpit. It’s one of those rare times when a publisher offered a book deal because of a blog.  It was great to be able to attend the reading and get my book signed.

Pat’s reading included a reference to her daughter’s name – Joan – and for whom she was named. I immediately thought of a welcome ceremony that Pat’s soul-sisters of Sarah’s Circle had held for Joan as an infant, which featured a coat of many colors that Pat had made for Joan.  It also included a personal blessing from each person in attendance, given verbally at the time and recorded in a book which Pat gave to Joan when she turned sixteen.

When we had a bite to eat together after the reading, the Sarah’s Circle members in attendance were reminiscing about that day and telling stories about names and their meanings and how we came to be called what we are called.

Even though Joan is about to graduate from Oberlin later this month – with Michelle Obama as commencement speaker! – I remember that I had written my blessing to her about the origin of our name. Joan (and Joanne) come from a Hebrew root and I have heard them translated as “God is gracious” or “gift of God” or my favorite “God’s gracious gift.” The last is the one I chose to incorporate into my blessing for Joan.

When I was a first year at Smith thirty-six years ago, I studied Latin with Professor Skulsky. One day she went through the class and told us all the origin of our names, although she was disappointed that none of us had names with Latin roots, like Amanda, which means “the woman who ought to be loved.”

Years later, there was a rise in popularity of Amanda as a name for new babies. My younger daughter had a number of same age Amandas in her class. I wonder if they knew the meaning of their name…

[Update: This post now has a postscript.]
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is: “name.”  Please join us! Find out how here:

adge by Doobster @Mindful Digressions

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