Wednesday 16 January 2019

Michael cherished his roots


CMsgt Michael Mahon of Sligo in the US Air Force
CMsgt Michael Mahon of Sligo in the US Air Force

A Sligo emigrant who sailed for America almost 65 years ago has passed away in Austin, Texas.

Retired Chief Master Sergeant with the US Air Force Michael Francis Mahon (84) was born in Leitrim but raised in Dromore West before coming to live and work in Sligo town in the early 1950's.

Michael arrived in the United States in the summer of 1954, having left Sligo in search of better employment and educational opportunities.

The day after his arrival in New York, he began work making crates at a chalkboard factory in Hackensack, New Jersey.

There, he was taken under the wing of his first American friend, Cliff, who also happened to be his first African American friend.

Throughout the years, Michael often recalled the kindness and generosity Cliff demonstrated toward him as a new immigrant in an unfamiliar place.

Michael quickly adapted to his new home country, and soon began crossing the George Washington Bridge into New York City every day to work in the currency department at the Chase Manhattan Bank.

As soon as he was established, he was joined by his beloved future wife, Josephine "Jodie" Mooney, one of six children raised in St John's Terrace, Sligo.

Jodie's father was a Stevedore (dock worker) who allocated work between Sligo Docks and Derry.

Having been advised that he was likely to receive a draft notice fairly quickly, Michael pre-empted the mandatory obligation to serve by choosing to enlist in the United States Air Force.

After completing his basic training in San Antonio in 1956, Michael and Jodie were married at Randolph Air Force Base in Chapel number two.

They set up house, and were swept into the Irish American community in San Antonio. They entertained at home often, hosting dinner parties and gatherings for an eclectic group of San Antonio natives, Irish expats, and religious scholars from St. Mary's University.

Michael had a distinguished 30-year career in the Air Force, including a tour of duty in Vietnam serving in General William Westmoreland's maps office in Saigon.

His numerous assignments supported the Air Force's tactical reconnaissance mission both in the United States and abroad in Zweibrucken, Germany and RAF Alconbury, England.

The Mahon family moved more than 10 times during his career, and were always grateful for the opportunity it afforded them to meet diverse people from different cultures, and live in the footsteps of world history.

Their seven children eagerly awaited Michael's return from his many single tours of duty to exotic locales, as he always made sure to bring home some small treasures for us.

Following his retirement with distinction from Bergstrom AFB in 1986, Michael continued to live in Austin, Texas and work at the United States Post Office until his official retirement in 2003.

This timing, sorrowfully, coincided with his beloved Jodie's rare gastrointestinal cancer diagnosis. Michael stayed by Jodie's side providing valiant care and tender companionship throughout her five-year battle with the disease.

When she died in 2009, he was left with a broken heart. He chose to honor Jodie's memory by immersing himself in the devoted care of their youngest daughter, Fiona, who has Down Syndrome, and helping with the care of numerous grandchildren.

Michael was born at home on December 27, 1933 to Sarah and Garda Andrew Mahon in Dowra, County Leitrim.

The third of nine children born in a house with no electricity and no running water, Michael was an avid reader and excellent student, in spite of having to remain at home often to care for his younger siblings when his mother was ill.

As a teenager, he counted himself lucky to have the opportunity to attend a local technical school, where he excelled in the trade of carpentry, launching a lifelong passion for finely crafted furniture.

Michael's keen appreciation for all things beautiful spanned across the realms of furniture, art, architecture, nature, textiles, and lovely objects of virtually any type.

These enthusiasms, and his vast, encyclopedic knowledge of art, antiques, and history are among the many gifts his children were grateful to receive from him. Michael was naturally inquisitive and self taught in many areas.

He demonstrated remarkable acuity in virtually every task he undertook, whether it was electrical, plumbing, construction, gardening, or painting.

He approached every job with the ardour of perfectionism, always employing the adages of "use the right tool" and "measure twice, cut once."

Until the very end of his life, he continually worked on home improvements and reinventing his garden to cultivate beautiful plantings that would better flourish in the Texas heat.

His presence in his much admired yard was so familiar it led one of his neighbours to observe that when he saw Michael working in the garden, he knew "everything was right with the world."

He taught his children many things. But the most important and lasting lessons he conferred upon them were those regarding humanity.

He taught them to value kindness, charity, and a good education. He taught them about hard work, compassion, equality, acceptance, honesty, adversity, integrity, and citizenship.

He and Jodie cherished their Sligo roots, and brought their children home to visit their Sligo relatives as often as they could.

In fact they were planning a trip home to Sligo before Jodie died in 2009. Michael subsequently made one more trip home.

The loving couple were both always ready to have a cup of tea, a biscuit, and a good chat.

Michael slipped away quietly on July 29th from complications from cancer, surrounded by his family.

He is survived by his children Maeve, Andrea, Deirdre, Michelle, Philip, Aileen, and Fiona and numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren.

He is also survived by his sisters Peggy and Nellie in Ballisodare, Betty in Grange and brother Andrew in Longford.

Sligo Champion