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The Memorable Mary ‘Pink’ Mullaney

by Steph Byce

Whether helping the homeless or finding clever re-uses for pantyhose, Mary Mullaney, aka Pink, was special.

Mary 'Pink' Mullaney (JSOnline)

Pink Mullaney touched people. She’d let the homeless get warm in her car, wrote letters to inmates and returned from shopping trips with a collection of new friends. She visited nursing homes to kiss the residents, wrote letters to the imprisoned and gave rides to people walking in the rain. She was special, and her children realized her obituary needed to be special, too

The notice, published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Sept. 4, 2013, hints at a compassionate woman with a wicked sense of humor, a nurturing soul who inspired others to do good works and have fun.


The piece’s comments section contains items like this: “What a lovely tribute to your mother who I never met. Because of your message I will try to live less critical and more loving. I would have loved to meet her.”

“We wanted to write 1,000 stories,” said Meg Vartanian, the youngest of Pink’s six children. “She was just so silly all the time. Growing up, everybody wanted to come to our house. They’d say, ‘Will your Mom be home?’ Because they wanted to see her.”

Pink, 85, died from pancreatic cancer Sept. 1. (Her birth certificate said “Mary Agnes” but the nickname “Pink” was given to her in utero, when her mother promised her sister a baby girl to balance out the boys in the family.)

The family chose to leave out some standard obituary details, like the fact that Pink went to nursing school.

“Not that that wasn’t a big part of her life, but we cut the obvious,” Vartanian said. “We wanted to keep it interesting.”

Vartanian provided more details about some of the stories in the obituary, all of which are true:

“If a possum takes up residence in your shed, grab a barbecue brush to coax him out. If he doesn’t leave, brush him for twenty minutes and let him stay.” It was a 10-year-old Vartanian who found the possum in the shed she thought “was going to pull my eyeballs out. He growled.” She ran inside to tell Pink, who grabbed the grill brush and went to nudge the animal out the door. She was gone for about 15 minutes. “I’m standing and waiting and waiting and waiting and she came back and I said, ‘Did you get him?’ and she said, ‘No, but he really does like to have his hair brushed.” She’d given the possum a full petting, including between the ears and on the tummy when he rolled over for her. He stayed in the shed.

Believe the hitchhiker you pick up who says he is a landscaper and his name is “Peat Moss.” Pink picked up hitchhikers. She figured her sons did it, so why not? Once, she came home and told the family about “the nicest guy” she’d given a ride to, and the family burst out laughing when she said the name. She didn’t get it immediately, and then she said, “It never occurred to me. Do you think he was kidding?” Said Vartanian, “She was the world’s biggest kidder, but it never dawned on her that somebody might jab her back.”

Take magazines you’ve already read to your doctors’ office for others to enjoy. Do not tear off the mailing label, “Because if someone wants to contact me, that would be nice.” As Pink said, “I’m waiting to see the doctor and I’m reading his ‘Horse and Country’ magazine.”

Still, Vartanian said, they left so much on the cutting room floor: Pink was a book worm and will be buried with her library card. She was a huge fan of the game show “Cash Cab” and she’d watch it while on the phone with her sister in New Jersey. How her grandchildren still laugh when they recall her pulling into a fast food drive-through for the first time – and stopping to talk at the trash can.

“She was a character, larger than life,” Vartanian said.

Natalie Pompilio is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. Her lifelong love of obituaries raised eyebrows when she was younger, but she’s now able to explain that this interest goes beyond morbid curiosity. Says Pompilio, “Obituaries are mini life stories, allowing a glimpse into someone’s world that we’re often denied. I just wish we could share them with each other when we’re alive.”

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