Continued from September 6, 2013 Newsletter
In 1957, Carmel and Gerald Neary left their home in Ireland to make a new life in Calgary with their daughters, Shelagh and Dara. Two more girls, Geraldine and Donna, were born in short succession. The family embodied the classic immigrant success story in that they prospered and all four girls grew up to embrace the opportunities on offer in their new homeland. In Shelagh, the principled rebelliousness of her Irish heritage fused with the Albertan spirit of pioneering enterprise to forge an ambitious, determined, tenacious character with a zest for life, a strong work ethic, a mighty heart and an enormous capacity to love.
And if my parting has left a void
Then fill it with remembered joy.
She loved books and reading and decided early in life that she wanted to be a librarian. She earned a BA in English (with Distinction) from the University of Calgary, and a Masters Degree in Library Science from the University of British Columbia. She went to work at the University of Calgary library, where she was one of Alan MacDonald’s cadre of feisty, opinionated and clever young go-getters. While she was involved in many U of C initiatives, the legacy she was most proud was the Business Library in Scurfield Hall (Haskayne School of Business). After 18 years at the U of C she was ready to seek new challenges and she headed downtown to Bennett Jones, one of Canada’s premier business law firms, where she provided energetic leadership. Sometimes willful and always passionate, she was supportive of her staff, providing them with mentoring and opportunities. The last major project which benefited from her vision and hard work was the creation of BenNet, the firm’s intranet which was recognized with the Nielsen Norman Intranet Design Award in an international competition. In 2012, in acknowledgement of her formidable leadership abilities, the Calgary Law Library Group dedicated a Leadership Award in her name to be awarded annually.
A friendship shared, a laugh, a kiss
Ah yes, these things I, too, shall miss.
My life’s been full, I’ve savoured much
Good times, good friends, a loved-one’s touch.
She was married to Murray for 39 happy years. Like all couples they faced their trials together, not least of which was the ten long years they waited for their son Sean to enter their lives, bringing with him joy and love. More fulfillment came three years later with the arrival of Kevin. She loved her boys profoundly and was immensely proud of the fine men they have become, and her family was enhanced yet again when Kevin married Alexandra. Shelagh loved Calgary and retained a strong affection for her Irish roots but her favourite location was the family retreat at Duck Lake, Montana, which became her sanctuary and the place to which she removed herself to read, to rest, to contemplate and to become reenergized. A devout feminist, she worked assiduously to promote the ordination of women to priesthood in the Catholic Church. She was a devoted member of the Saint Brigid of Kildare Catholic Faith Community and a supporter of Roman Catholic Womenpriests, an international group seeking to reform the Church. Implacably opposed to injustice and unfairness, she was a formidable campaigner and she encouraged others to question misguided allegiance to the status quo. Tragedy struck in November 2010 when she was diagnosed with ALS. This was the most daunting challenge of her life but she stepped up to the plate and confronted her fate with resilience, courage, grace and true grit. She was supported magnificently by her family, friends, colleagues, the Adult and Palliative Home Care teams from Alberta Health Services, and most notably, the ALS Society of Alberta (especially Jane Rivest and Megan Blomfield). Special mention must go to the wonderful Tina Lorenzo, Shelagh’s constant caregiver, for her professional skills, her unwavering devotion to duty and her unstinting kindness. Shelagh faced her final days and hours with her customary consideration for loved ones and with a fortitude that was inspirational. Such was her life and such was her death. She will be missed.
Perhaps my time seemed all too brief
Don’t shorten yours with undue grief
Be not be burdened with tears of sorrow
Enjoy the sunshine of the morrow.
A Celebration of Shelagh’s Life will take place at 10:30 a.m., Tuesday July 23, 2013 at St. David’s United Church, 3303 Capitol Hill Crescent N.W., Calgary, AB with a Funeral Mass celebrated by the Pastor of St. Brigid of Kildare Catholic Faith Community. At Shelagh’s request, please wear bright colours! In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the ALS Society of Alberta, No. 250, 4723 – 1 Street S.W., Calgary, Alberta T2G 4Y8. In living memory of Shelagh Mikulak, a tree will be planted at Hill Springs Park, Cochrane.
Published in The Calgary Herald on July 18, 2013