Remembrances: Friends from Marymount High School

Hello, I’m Debi Hoffmann, and standing up here with me are Michele Ahern, Caroline Kallas and Jean Wagoner. We are the “Marymount Girls.”

Our story begins 33 years ago, in the fall of 1977, when we met Mary at Marymount High School. Mary was the bookish girl with big glasses, and we were… not. By all outward appearances, we were opposites. But we soon learned we shared many interests: books, art, music, sports (yes gymnastics & figure skating are sports!) and a deep, deep love of chocolate.

Mary made us feel special, loved, wanted and important. She kept us together with annual slumber parties from Napa to New Orleans and points in between. She took us to Italy for her 40th birthday so that we could all share in seeing Pope John Paul II in front on St. Peter’s Basilica. A couple of years ago we all went to Paris, and shopped and dined our way through the city of lights, until we declared this the best trip ever!

Mary gave me my first trip to Europe and taught me to love travel. Because of her, that beautiful dress in a Paris shop window, the one I just knew would never fit me, is hanging in my closet – true proof of Mary’s magical powers.

One of Michele’s favorite memories of Mary from high school is when we were all at Jean’s house for a slumber party. We sat on the edge of the fireplace, arm in arm, singing “Fleetwood Mac’s “Chain Keep Us Together.” There were also the many holidays when Mary would come over to the house, walk right in, grab a glass of milk, sit down with the adults and make herself comfortable. Mary’s confidence and ease with the world were very admirable.

Jean fondly remembers the summer she spent in England… something she would not have done if Mary had not been able to convince her to attend summer school together at Cambridge University in 1983. She watched as Mary wowed her professors and fellow students alike with her knowledge of Henry James and all things British, just as she impressed her friends with her distinct handle on a range of topics from the intellectual to pop culture.

Some of Caroline’s fondest memories are traveling with Mary to help do research for the travel guides to Las Vegas, New Orleans and parts of Southern California. Mary was fearless in her ability to approach anybody and ask questions… like the dancer at a Vegas strip club “How do those tassels stay on?” Or the customer at the next table in a restaurant… “Oh that looks good, I’m writing a review, do you mind if I try a bite?” Mary had an abundance of curiosity about the world that was irresistible.

Mary’s family was also important to her, and they came to mean so much to us as well. Debbie… you opened your home to us that first year at Marymount for a memorable birthday slumber party in the wilds of Malibu. Rich… you comped us tickets to the UCLA girls gymnastics meets, and opened your cabin home to us for an overnighter in Lake Arrowhead. The irrepressible Dick Herczog, who lived up to the “let joy reign supreme” slogan his family espoused, always made us feel welcome and loved. And Claudia Herczog, the ying to Mr. Herczog’s enthusiastic yang, you always show great interest in our travels and travails. You are a remarkable family – thank you for allowing us to be a part of it.

And of course, Steve, an honorary “Marymount Girl,” (the highest honor we give to a civilian), thank you for being so wonderful on our trips, showing infinite patience traveling with 5 strong-willed women, holding handbags and taking pictures of us. Thank you for loving our friend.

It’s hard to imagine a world without Mary in it. She filled a room with her incredible brain power, her humor and her conviction that she thought you were an amazing person to be smothered with as much love as she could give you… and she had plenty of love to give. This was her greatest gift. She taught us to eat well (and often!), to live life, and to laugh, laugh, laugh. She believed in us and showed us our worth. All of us Marymount Girls share a deep and abiding bond, a sisterhood… a chain that will keep us together.

Thank you, Mary.

She’s Feeling Fine, Really
From the Los Angeles Times Series
April 13, 1998
People have wondered whether I asked, “Why me?” The answer is no. Instead, all along I’ve said, “Why not me?” Women do get breast cancer, after all–118,000 a year in the United States. Though I do sometimes muse, why not me and, say, Courtney Love? Or those girls on “Friends,” with their perfect hair. Actually, haven’t you noticed how infrequently this seems to happen to the shiny happy people?

Statistics are, however, something I avoid, because they are never good when talking about women under 40 who have invasive breast cancer–which would be, of course, me. My serenity in the face of all this is helped tremendously by ignorance of numbers.

Something that has helped immeasurably has been the support I’ve gotten. For example, I throw an annual party to watch the Oscars. This year, people were flying in from around the country to come–and I know it wasn’t because it’s that fine a fete. When people will pay money, or give up frequent flier miles, just to come look at you (even if they use a party as an excuse), how can you help but feel better?

To employ a graceless, but serviceable analogy, consider life as a sort of card game. Everyone is dealt hands, some good, some bad. We all know people who have been dealt very bad hands, indeed, and in some cases have played them brilliantly. We also know those who have been given great hands only to squander them. The trick is to play your cards as well as you can, bluffing if you must. Just don’t fold.

Some people may say that [this] attitude–this is bad, but it’s not that bad, and it will be better, and it will be–is denial. But I read somewhere recently that what we now call denial is what we used to call hope. Or faith.