The values Marie Walsh grew up with amid the cows, heifers, corn and milk of a Delaware County dairy farm said the values her family held most dear were tied to social justice, human dignity, and helping others.
Next month, she’ll retire after 35 years of helping people in need through her work with the Catholic Charities of Cortland County.
As executive director, Walsh worked with clients from all walks of life. From teenage mothers to individuals with mental illnesses, to inmates at the Cortland County Jail, Walsh’s goal was to help improve their lives.
“There are people we still work with today, that we started working with in the ’80s when they first came out of the mental hospitals, and there are many people we worked with until they passed away,” Walsh said. “That long-term relationship with people has been so rewarding. I still run into people that were teen moms when I was running that program in the ’80s. Now they’re grandmas, but they still consider us family.”
Although she has another seven weeks before she retires officially, Walsh’s team is already feeling her absence.
“If I think about it too much, I’m going to start bawling,” said Mary Jordan, her eyes welling with tears. “It’s been a great place to work, they’re very family-oriented. Marie is always on top of things, she knows who needs help and works to get people the services they need. She’s a go-getter and she always has been.”
Jordan, an administrative assistant, has worked for the Catholic Charities of Cortland County for nearly 30 years.
“We formed a bond over the years and we’ve done a lot of projects together,” Jordan said, pausing to borrow tissues. “We’re all going to miss Marie. She’s done a great job leading the agency. We’ve expanded a great deal since Marie’s been the executive director, she’s an active person in the community and cares about those that need help.”
Walsh’s successor has yet to be hired by the board of directors.
“We’re going to miss Marie, she’s done so much and she’s so well-known in the community,” said Carol Clarke, president of the board of directors. “She’s a hard worker who truly looks at the needs of the clients we service, and asks, ‘Are there other ways we can address their needs, other programs we need to develop?’”
“I just hope that the next executive director has an engaging and open mind,” Walsh said. “I hope it’s someone who will take the time to really learn, if they don’t already know, about this community.”
Looking back, Walsh said she fondly remembered certain services like the food pantries and summer youth programs, but wishes they could have done more, such as housing projects to provide direct services to children and their families.
“We do have some real issues in this community related to poverty that need more attention,” she said. “I hope those projects will continue. Somebody new will come in and they’ll pick up the pieces and start working on even more projects.”
Walsh said that so far her retirement plans are simply to not have plans.
“We’re going to still be here, I live right here in town and my husband has his (law) practice here, so we’re not going anywhere,” she said, reassuring her co-worker. “I’m looking forward to not having an agenda, just spending more time at home.”