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Vivian Hickey

1916 - 2016 Obituary Condolences
Vivian Hickey Obituary
Vivian Hickey 1916—2016
Vivian Hickey, age 100, passed away comfortably and peacefully Thursday, April 28, 2016, at The Redwoods Retirement Community in Mill Valley, California. She had moved to California in October 2011, to be near her middle son and his family and had greatly enjoyed her life there. She loved The Redwoods aesthetic, a natural setting among the redwood trees by the Bay, and in her first three years there she would walk daily along the Bay path. On March 25, she joyfully celebrated her one hundredth birthday with her three sons and their wives. But with that accomplished she turned her focus to passing into her next adventure, whatever that was going to be, and, with her usual singlemindedness, died peacefully five weeks later. As she said many times to many people, she had had a wonderful and lucky life and couldn't have been happier about it but enough was enough. Vivian Ellen Veach was born in Clayton, Illinois, population 1,000, received a BA from Rockford Woman's College and an MA in Theater from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She was married in 1940 to Francis Hickey, a Rockford attorney, and a year later became a life-long member of the League of Women Voters, spending the next 70 years enthusiastically doing its work. One of the high points of this long career was being one of the first Americans to visit a newly opened China on a League trip in 1976. Typical of League Women of her day, service and politics were her passions. During the 1950's she served as a Trustee of Rockford College. In 1964, she was elected to the founding board of Rock Valley College and spent the next 8 years building the college. In 1973, she was appointed to the Illinois Board of Higher Education. A lifetime Democrat, she was appointed to the Illinois State Senate in 1974, to fill the vacancy created by the untimely death of her friend, Ann Keegan, and then was elected to a four-year term that fall. When she began in the Senate, the Illinois Democratic Party was completely dominated by Mayor Dick Daley Sr., of Chicago. She and seven other Democratic Senators ended that domination by courageously creating an independent caucus, which came to be known as "the Crazy Eight", because conventional wisdom held that they were attempting something doomed to fail with severe punishment to follow. But, by sticking together in a Senate closely divided between Republicans and Democrats, these eight Democratic Senators forced real dialogue on issues in the Senate and broke up forever the vice-grip that the Chicago "Machine" had long had on Democrats in Springfield. It was an exhilarating time to be in the Illinois legislature and Senator Hickey greatly enjoyed the limelight, finding a new outlet for her lifetime love of stagecraft. Two years into her term, Senator Hickey developed breast cancer and decided not to run for a second term in 1978, because she did not want to risk another untimely death of a woman senator in Rockford. In 1982, she recruited Joyce Holmberg to run for her old senate seat and Joyce held the seat for 10 more years, resulting in it becoming known as the "Woman's Seat." Around the same time Mrs. Hickey was elected to the Illinois Democratic Party State Central Committee as its representative from the 16th Congressional District and served there for 6 years in the early 1980's. As a result of her multiyear organizing efforts, including the pioneering development of the use of data processing in voter identification, in 1990 the 16th District elected its first Democratic Congressman, John Cox, whom she had recruited. As was illustrated by her pioneer trip to China, she and her husband, Francis loved international travel and over the years visited 50 countries on all seven continents. But when Francis became ill in 1986, their travels together ended and she spent the next six years caring for him. In her usual fashion of making lemonade out of lemons (her favorite saying) she used this time to learn painting, bridge, and the personal computer in her 70's, all three of which became new passions over the next 25 years. After Francis' death in 1992, she returned to traveling, often with friends or one of her grandchildren. At age 85 she was on a painting trip to rural France when 911 happened. Vivian was a longtime activist in Illinois politics and recruited many women to run for public office. She was a courageous and gracious pioneer who loved nothing more than showing women that they could do anything they wanted in every aspect of their lives. Throughout her life she was guided by a simple dictum that she attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt: "Do the good that lies before you." The following anecdote, written shortly after her death by Sue Kanthak, the former Rockford Public Schools Homeless Coordinator, captures Vivian's lifework and persona in both action and impact. "This amazing woman heard me speak at a town hall meeting with our senator. The very next day, she showed up in my office and said, 'I didn't know there were that many homeless children here in Rockford. How can I help?' She was a force to be reckoned with. Over the next couple of years, she, in her 90s, and a group of her friends took on my program. They were able to get donations of much needed items, maintain a clothes closet, and were the impetus in getting financial donations. She is the woman I will always strive to be. She was my role model." Vivian loved politics, bridge, painting, and reading but these pleasures were slowly taken from her from a combination of hearing loss, macular degeneration, and increasing frailty in the months before her move to California at the age of 95. But in keeping with her life view, Vivian found new interests to develop as these old interests were taken from her. She started attending daily exercise classes and developed a rich interior life and new intimate dimensions with both her caretakers and her family. Through her very last days she continued to inspire people around her with her graciousness, resilience, and adaptability in the face of progressing frailty. From the beginning of her life to its end, Vivian was the captain of her own ship. At the age of 24, she walked herself down the aisle at her wedding to deliver herself to her husband. And at the end of her life, on her timing, she happily and confidently captained her ship out into the great ocean of her next adventure, which, she told her son two weeks before she died, she was confident was going to be a good experience. Vivian is survived by three sons, Chad, Conn and Mart, and by their wives, eight children and eight grandchildren.
Her remains have been cremated and will be buried in a common grave with her husband in a family ceremony at St. Mary's/St. James Cemetery on June 18th. There will be a Memorial Service at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 18th, at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4848 Turner St., Rockford, Rev. Dr. Matthew Johnson presiding. In lieu flowers, memorial contributions can be made to Rock Valley College Foundation, 3301 North Mulford Road, Rockford, IL 61114-5699 or at www.rockvalleycollege.edu/Foundation.
Published in Rockford Register Star on May 29, 2016
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