My speech at Interim House "Raise the Roof" benefit, May 2003

Good evening.  I am Joyce Linehan, the oldest child of Yvonne Linehan, who we honor tonight. 

On behalf of my brother David and sister Gail, I thank you all for coming.  I am humbled at the sight of so many  - family, friends, neighbors and a few strangers. Your presence is testament to many of the good things my mother did in her life, whether you knew her or not. She would have been very pleased to see this gathering, to celebrate her 70th birthday.  She’d have been horried about turning 70, but she would have been touched. 

Through your generosity, and that of other friends who couldn’t be here tonight, we in fact actually raised the roof.  There is enough money to replace the roof on Interim House.  They need some plumbing work done too, but “Pay for the Plumbing” didn’t have quite the ring of “Raise the Roof.” 

At my mother’s wake, as I stood receiving the good wishes and sympathy of so many friends, I was struck by the remarks of three individuals – three men who looked like they’d seen a fair amount of hard living. Each man told me that my mother saved his life. While I knew what she did for a living, it really didn’t hit me until I shook hands with living proof of her day-to-day work. These were pretty awesome gifts she had, this capacity for compassion and empathy.  I was very proud of her. 

Though she would NEVER characterize herself as such, (much too unladylike) she was a feminist. She raised some very independent (when we didn’t call her frequently enough, she’d say too independent) children, and she exemplified self-sufficiency. Having been widowed with three small children and not much education, she knew full well the pitfalls of being dependent. She changed the course of her life, and in doing so, taught us self-reliance.  Growing up watching her, it never crossed my mind that a woman couldn’t have any career she wanted. And I am grateful for that.

She was also adventurous, with a love for new experiences.  As many of you know, I work in the arts, and one of the benefits of that work is that you get invited for free to all of these plays, concerts, dance performances.  I think that’s when I miss her most.  When I am sitting in some theater in town waiting for the curtain to go up, I think about how much she would enjoy being there, experiencing that. 

She was always up for those kinds of things, any kind of entertainment – movies, plays, whatever, no matter how esoteric or eclectic.  If you had an extra ticket, you could be sure that she’d be up for going.  Sure, she might look at you afterwards and say – that was really weird. What was that all about?  But she was always game. 

And she loved to travel.  She went to all kinds of places all over the world, at any opportunity.  I remember once, when she was a little upset with David about some trip he was taking that was going to make him miss a family gathering or something.  She was complaining that all he ever wanted to do was travel.  She looked at us, without even a trace of irony, and said “I don’t know where he gets it.” 

She also taught me the importance of laughter.  Every day was an adventure. Even when she was really sick, when we were driving to Dana Farber for thrice weekly blood infusions that took up the whole day, we laughed, and she made the people around her laugh too.  Her bald hat always matched her socks and her turtleneck. 

I remember one day, she was feeling kind of defeated by the nagging pain and discomfort caused by the chemo and radiation.  The doctor came in and she said, “Doctor, I can handle the cross.  It’s the splinters that are driving me crazy.”  She had a way of talking, sometimes misusing words or using outdated phrases (like calling a bag of broken donuts like the ones they would get as children “cripples” or saying someone looked like a whore in a church to describe someone looking guilty).

Once, we went to see my then-boyfriend, who is a country singer, perform down at the Music Circus.  After his set, she said to him, “Oh I love the way you sing those “ballards,” trying to disguise her Boston accent.  She had a language all her own, and inspired by a news story that was big a while back, we dubbed these little Momisms “Yvonnics.”  She was a very funny lady, and she raised pretty funny children.  Well, funny girls.  David’s not that funny, but he got some marketable skills, so don’t worry about him.

I just want to say a quick thanks to a few people who helped put this event together.  My co-chairs, my sister Gail Linehan who dealt with a lot of the logistics and little things.  She was the glue for this, just as she was when Mom was sick, and she spent so much time taking care of her. Judy Coughlin Curley, who must be very special because Yvonne was very fond of her despite the fact that she taught me how to smoke when I was 11. Dan Gay and Amy Meehan – two new friends whose humor and grace made a the work go  a lot faster.  JJ Rassler and Jen Rassler, old friends whose commitment to public service is inspiring.  Tom Johnston, who helped assemble the entertainment. His fate as a friend of the family was sealed in 1967, when his parents took my brother sister and me home with them so my Mom could go to the hospital the day our Dad died. We discovered this much later when we re-met in our late teens, and figured it was some kind of a sign that we were friends for life. Phil Sullivan, Brendan Haley and Greg Hanniwalt who are dealing with all of the tech stuff. And Naomi Yang, who designed the lovely invitations. Thanks to my friends Joe Pernice & Peyton Pinkerton, the Tarbox Ramblers and Blake Hazard. I don’t think we’ve had entertainment of this caliber around these parts since Ray Bolger played the Strand and Tony Bennett performed at Blinstrub’s. I’d also like to thank Florian Hall, the Dorchester Reporter and Paul Driscoll for their generosity. 

Again, thank you for coming. It means the world to David, Gail and me, to be able to see that Mom’s work is carried on. It is what she wanted.