Eileen left us peacefully in her sleep on January 12th. While Eileen's death felt quite sudden and was far too soon for those of us left behind, it should be noted that over 20 years ago she had a medical condition she was told she was unlikely to survive, and if she did survive, she’d spend the remainder of her life as an invalid. Finding neither of these options particularly appealing and being rather stubborn, Eileen instead spent the next two decades living with generosity and joy, delighting in her grandchildren who she blissfully spoiled with treats, gifts, and abundance of love, enjoying countless wonderful meals, and traveling the world with her Davie Dear (including taking a minivan to the southern tip of Argentina, and a Norwegian mail boat up to the arctic circle.)
Eileen, born in Maryland to Elinor Salb and James McCarthy, was very proud of her childhood in Washington D.C. where she recalled lunch dates with her mother in the Congressional Lunchroom after having spent their days at the Smithsonian. At the age of 16 her family relocated to Tampa FL when her father, a candy salesman for Mr. Peanut, was transferred. There she attended a Catholic High School and became an accomplished water-skier, among other assorted activities. She had wonderful stories, one where she had to sneak out of her house, went water skiing (fully dressed) and returning home completely dry. Supposedly no one was the wiser. (We all still wonder where her son Jake got his sneaking out skills.)
After high school, Eileen wanted to dedicate her life to serving others. She felt the best way to do that was by joining the convent. While in the order of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary she became involved in the Civil Rights movement. She spent a summer living in the projects in Washington D.C. - the summer MLK was assassinated and D.C. burned. She camped on the Mall during the Poor People’s March. The organizers of the march interspersed the nuns among Black men in an effort to deter violence against the men.
Eileen subsequently was sent to Key West, Florida to teach in the Catholic high school. There she met a dashing young man in flight training for the Navy. Still being dedicated to public service, but questioning her dedication to a religious life, she left the convent but continued to teach high school. Several years later, in a very romantic turn of events, she married the dashing young man, who was then finishing his legal education in Virginia.
Eileen and Dave moved to Denver in 1976. They lived in an apartment in an old mansion in Capitol Hill. While Dave was studying for the bar exam Eileen found her best friend in the drug dealer downstairs “because he was always home and ready to hang out!” Eileen and Dave had two children born in Denver, Lisa and James (Jake). Dave was relocated to Houston TX in 1982 and the family settled on Galveston Island. Eileen and Dave’s daughter, Katie was born there, “on an Island off the coast of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Having survived their four-year exile in Texas, the family returned to Denver in 1986. There Eileen opened their Park Hill home to friends, family, and strangers and, as one person described it, “became the matriarch of our community.” Eileen was generous of spirit, welcoming everyone with a warm smile, a delicious home-cooked meal, and of course their drink of choice. The door was never closed and there was always food ready for whoever came over, or was just found sleeping in the hammock in the backyard. For someone so profoundly kind, Eileen was incredibly fun, she had a quick wit and a sharp tongue. Eileen took great joy in life; she made every holiday a grand celebration and could turn almost any day into a holiday. Her children, and to an even greater extent, her grandchildren benefited greatly from this talent.
While raising her community and family, she found time to pursue a Masters’ degree in U.S. history and subsequently a PhD in International Studies and Human Rights, focusing on women and children in Sub-Saharan Africa. Her dedication to social justice continued with her work as editor for a scholarly journal - Africa Today and as Executive Director for Denver Justice and Peace Committee.
Eileen is survived by her loving husband Dave, her daughters Lisa, Katie, and Lindsay (technically a daughter in law but that is a technicality the family has long forgotten), her son in law Jonathan, three beloved grandchildren James, Eamon, and Claire, friends and family and an entire community that will miss her. She will be welcomed in the next phase by her beloved son Jake, who passed away from cancer far too young, and by many friends and relatives. She will forever be missed, but never forgotten because she has taught an entire generation of Denver kids how to cook, love food, and have a good time but most importantly how to make everyone feel welcome and loved in her home.
Eileen’s family will host a celebration of life in the spring at their home in Parkhill- details forthcoming.
Contributions in Eileen’s name can be made to:
El Porvenir, which assists rural communities in Nicaragua in developing clean water and sanitation projects. elporvenir.org .
Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, which provides pro bono legal representation to immigrants in deportation proceedings. rmian.org
Family HomeStead, which provides emergency and transitional housing to homeless families with children in the Denver area. familyhomestead.org