Thursday 18 December 2014

A tale of two women, a friendship found by chance then snatched away by breast cancer

Mary Mitchell O'Connor wipes away the tears as she tells Barry Egan of coming to terms with her loss

A GAP THAT CAN'T BE FILLED: Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell O'Connor
A GAP THAT CAN'T BE FILLED: Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell O'Connor
Mary Mitchell O'Connor's friend Mary O'Connor who died from cancer

THE letter is open on the mantlepiece of Mary Mitchell O'Connor's home in Cabinteely, Dublin. Late every night when the Fine Gael TD gets home from work, she sees it there.

Its contents weigh on her mind. Mary dreads the appointment next Thursday in Vincent's hospital for a breast check. It is not so much the appointment as the anxious wait for the results.

She watched her best friend Mary O'Connor die of breast cancer earlier this year. It is not difficult to see why the subject would prey on her mind.

Yesterday morning, the blonde politician, whom some talk of as a future Taoiseach, was in floods of tears as she recounted the last conversation she had with her friend before she died.

"I met her in the hospital when she was very ill," Mary says – her eyes are red raw, her face wet with tears.

"She was very ill. . . I said goodbye to her."

There are long pauses between sentences punctuated by bouts of crying.

"I was there with her husband and kids. I told her she was a great friend. . . You know. . . I told her she was a great help to me in politics.

"Obviously, I told her that I would not look after . . . but look out for her kids."

She breaks down continually for the next hour and a half as she remembers her late friend, Mary O'Connor, from Cork, who died on March 11. She was only 50.

The friends met for the first time in late November 2007, when Mitchell O'Connor was principal in the Harold National school in Glasthule, Dublin, and also a councillor in Dun Laoghaire at the time.

She was standing at the bus stop outside Dail Eireann, waiting for the 145, when Mary O'Connor was passing in a car with her husband Dennis and teenage daughter Ellen (they also have a younger child, Catherine). She rolled down the window and said to Mitchell O'Connor that she recognised her as a councillor and offered her a lift home on that cold winter's night.

That was the beginning of a friendship that was to last for the remainder of Mary O'Connor's relatively short life. The memory of the friendship will remain with Mary Mitchell O'Connor for as long as she lives too.

"I piled into the back of the car that night and we became great friends forever more after that. We talked about politics, family, the usual," Mary recalls.

"She had a great political sense and became very involved in my election campaign in 2011. She provided me with great advice and guidance and was even there to celebrate with me the night I was nominated," Mitchell O'Connor says of December 16, 2010, adding that her friend and her two children were also with her on the day – February 26, 2011 – when she was elected to the Dail.

"She was very proud of me. She felt that I was something that she had delivered. She was one woman I could ring and she would tell me exactly what she thought, straight," Mary remembers.

"Often I went down to their house at 10, 11 o'clock at night for advice. It was a very warm home and her kitchen table was the focus point. We would sit around the table, laugh and cry.

Sunday Independent

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