Mary Alice O’Connor, a shining presence in our Peace Alliance community, passed away on December 3, 2018. We already miss her.
The Mary Alice O’Connor I knew had a twinkle in her eyes and beauty in her heart.
When her good friend, Stephen Zendt, told me about her sudden passing, he said it was like being hit by a thunderbolt. As another friend, Willard Davis, said, he -- and we -- were so blessed to have been part of the adventure of Mary Alice’s life.
I don’t remember when I first met Mary Alice O’Connor (AKA MAO). I think it was at a Department of Peacebuilding (DoP) gathering in Oakland in 2004. I remember her infectious energy, her strength and her vulnerability, her ponderings, her mischief and her mirth. Over the 14 years I knew Mary Alice, we walked intertwined paths of peacebuilding and friendship.
“Mary Alice was an important and insightful member of our Peace Alliance team for many years, serving as a regional coordinator, as a Development Director, as well as an invaluable supporter of our organization in multiple other roles. She was a beam of light, steady voice of tolerance, positive spirit, joyful ambassador for peace and non-violence and represented the best of who a peacemaker can be,” said Peace Alliance Board Chair Judy Kimmel.
Mary Alice was also part of the East Bay/ San Francisco Area Peace Alliance, the Northern CA Department of Peacebuilding Campaign, and a Congressional District 11 compadre. In addition, I knew her as the Executive Director of the Mount Diablo Peace and Justice Center in Walnut Creek, a spiritual person, a minister, an organizer, a mom, the inspiration behind the Creating A Peaceful Schoolannual conference in Walnut Creek, and a connector who seemed to know everyone.
I attended many events organized by MAO at the Peace Center, where she invited myriad guest speakers from the Richmond Police Chief to authors to others from the peace and policy communities. At several of these events, the Walnut Creek crew asked Rep. Ellen Tauscher to cosponsor DoP legislation so many times that she said yes -- I suspect so they would finally stop bringing it up. At another event, we publicly asked Congressman John Garamendi (again) to cosponsor the DoP legislation.
DoP Advocate Maggi Koren said that when Mary Alice brought Dennis Kucinich to Walnut Creek during one of his presidential campaigns, “I thought -- since her name was Mary Alice -- that she was a Sister. So I called her Sister. Mary Alice thought that was so funny. She was such a light, such a strong spirit, so special with her laughter and her song. That’s how I remember her, Sister Mary Alice.” Rep. Kucinich sponsored DoP legislation throughout his Congressional tenure.
“I had the pleasure of working with Mary Alice at the Mount Diablo Peace and Justice Center in Walnut Creek, CA. The Peace Center was very active with the Department of Peace campaign, and later the Peace Alliance here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Mary Alice was instrumental in creating multiple pro peace marches we had in Walnut Creek at the beginning of and during the Iraq war. These marches drew thousands of people who worked their way through the city streets. She was always pushing to get the local citizens, city and surrounding community groups involved in all of the peace programs. And that would always include the Department of Peace and Peace Alliance,” said Jeff Day. In addition Suzanne Day worked in the Peace Center office with Mary Alice.
Mary Alice invited the Northern CA DoP group to table at Peace Center rallies in the park. Judy Kimmel was a speaker at one of these events. Paula Powers, Willard Davis and other DoP helpers oversaw the enthusiastic painting of colorful peace murals during at least one of these rallies.
There are so many other memories. We took “Mother’s Day Peace Pies” to the local offices of Rep. John Garamendi and Rep. George Miller. We volunteered together at fundraisers for Congressman George Miller. Mary Alice hosted an event for Peace Alliance Co-founder Marianne Williamson when Marianne was exploring a run for the Congressional seat of George Miller, who about to retire. Not so long ago, I ran into Mary Alice at a townhall meeting in Concord with our current Congressman, Mark DeSaulnier. Even more recently she wrote to me that she “wanted to encourage Rep. DeSaulnier to be outspoken … we don’t have time to deal with current conditions in the same old way.”
When our CA DoP team initially sought endorsement by the CA Democratic Party(CDP) of the DoP legislation, Mary Alice engineered our meeting with the Contra Costa County Democratic Party Central Committee seeking its support. (They did support the DoP legislation, as did the State CDP.) In 2017, our mighty East Bay DoP group, including Mary Alice, wrote letters and attended Oakland City Council meetings to support the Council’s ultimate decision to establish a city Department of Violence Prevention. Leading up to the 2018 CA gubernatorial election, MAO, another friend, and I met privately with then-candidate for CA Governor Delaine Easton. Of course we went out to dinner after that.
Whenever we met -- whether at a Northern CA DoP ‘Sages-In-Training’ leadership retreat or at her house for some evenings of camaraderie to eat, drink and be merry -- it was not uncommon for Mary Alice to proclaim to me she had nothing to say, and then go on to say plenty.
MAO touched our Beloved Community locally, in California, and nationally:
- Having a real and close friendship with Mary Alice was a marvelous challenge. We argued, but we were often on the same page, yet we existed in highly separate realms of faith and spiritual action. I honor her for her vigorous belief in PEACE, and her metaphysical comprehension of One World, in blessed co-existence, letting go the means of war, while embracing all the reasons to be achieving real PEACE, most especially for the children. - Stephen Zendt, Mt. Diablo Peace & Justice Center, DoP Advocate (Walnut Creek, CA)
- I knew Mary Alice not only in all of her Peace Alliance roles but also as a friend, checking-in off and on from the East Bay and offering so many spiritual gifts, including counseling me, and coaching our two daughters regarding their relationships, wedding services and related protocols … Mary Alice was a special lady and peace maker to the core and she will be dearly missed by everyone who was blessed to be in her personal sphere … I will deeply miss Mary Alice's wonderful friendship, positive spirit and huge heart... - Judy Kimmel, Peace Alliance Board Chair
- Rivers of peace, friendship and music ran through Mary Alice’s life. While she went through some challenging times, in the Elisabeth Warren tradition, still she persisted. And she shared so much empathy, wisdom and fun along the way. - Nancy Merritt, DoP Advocate (El Cerrito, CA)
- She brought a lot of light to the planet and those around her. - Matthew Albracht, Peace Alliance Co-Founder
- I remember Mary Alice well, her always-upbeat attitude and total dedication to making this a more peaceful world. - Mike Abkin, National Peace Academy
- Kokomon and I are mourning. We are so sad. - Kokomon Clottey and Aeeshah Clottey, Attitudinal Healing Center (Oakland, CA) & Former Peace Alliance Board Members
- I have many memories of being with Mary Alice at many of the national Peace Alliance conferences we used to do in DC. Also at gatherings locally. I will always remember her beautiful spirit and warmth and energy. - Stephanie Thomas, DoP Advocate (Berkeley, CA)
- She was a lovely soul who laughed easilyand was a great supporter of our cause. We shall miss her dearly. - Maggi Koren, DoP Advocate (Windsor, CA)
- She was a light to many… I do remember her from last year’s Northern CA DoP Leadership meeting, where she sang This Little Light of Mine. - Elisabeth Scharbaum, DoP Advocate (Oakland, CA)
- Although I didn't know her that well, it was very apparent she was much more than met the eye...someone larger than life itself. That thought is comforting to me and I'm sure her family. - Heart Phoenix, River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding
- Standing with all in the Fire of Love as we celebrate the life of a beautiful peacebuilder, in the spirit of Peace … - Dot Maver, National Peace Academy & Former Peace Alliance Executive Director
- May she shine on in another realm and guide us. - Kendra Mon, DoP Advocate (Petaluma, CA)
- She is still walking, we will see her again. - Marty Lewis, DoP Advocate (Monterey, CA)
Not only did Mary Alice bring her song to our peace community, she, along with her partner, Willard Davis, sang with seniors every week at an Oakland retirement community. Willard said everyone there was touched by Mary Alice, and loved singing with her, her tambourine playing, her warmth. And her being the music.
At her memorial service, I learned that in 1968, Mary Alice left Chicago, Illinois holding a hand-painted sign that said simply “LA.” She hitchhiked to the West Coast with the single goal of starting a rock and roll band that would get the whole world singing to achieve universal harmonization. She moved to San Francisco in 1970 and lived in the Bay Area the rest of her life.
Willard also said he knows it’s not acceptable to put two principles like peace and force in human proximity, but certainly Mary Alice and several other women he knows in the peacebuilding community, “are each, and when together, a veritable Force for Peace. I speak not just about the consistent practicality of how they draw others into socially formative actions, but how they practice the keening art of moving people out of isolation and into a kind of nurturing and vibrant intimacy. Big hearts, warm arms, infectious smiles ...”
The last time I saw Mary Alice was at ArtEsteem’s 20th Annual Exhibition, where we gathered to celebrate the Attitudinal Healing/ ArtEsteem community young people and their guiding elders as they displayed their beautiful works of art and drummed their music. Some of our DoP folks were there … Mary Alice, Willard Davis, Stephanie Thomas, Doug Merritt and I. As always, Mary Alice expressed her gratitude for all we do. She was definitely a part of the “we” … a peace force to behold.
I am grateful to Mary Alice for being a connector, a music-maker, an advice-giver, a supporter, a compadre, a sister, a spirit traveler for peace … For her belief that Peace Is Possible. Now, having passed from relative to ancestor, we can listen in the wind for Mary Alice’s messages, including her refrain that love is all there is.
We love you, Mary Alice, and thank you for sharing your life with us.
On Behalf of the Beloved Peace Alliance/ Department of Peacebuilding Community
A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song. - Maya Angelou