Joan Durcan from New York via Sligo passed away at age 69 this week and a light went out of my life and a lot of other lives too.

It’s as simple as that.

I’d known Joan for 28 years, since I first showed up for a doctor’s appointment with Dr. Kevin Cahill in Manhattan and Joan was his office manager.

It was 1986 and I had recently moved from California and needed a family physician. My friend Adrian Flannelly told me Joan in Doctor Cahill’s office would look after me.

Did she ever.

I hit it off with Joan, leading to a long and deeply treasured friendship which lasted until Tuesday of this week when a broken-hearted Dr. Cahill called to tell me Joan had been found in her apartment, dressed for work, but gone to the next world.

His call left my head spinning; I talked to Joan usually once a week. I had in my mind to call her that very morning.

It was that peculiar friendship that only Irish emigrants can share, the sense of absurdity about life in America, the gossip, the jokes, the latest from the old country, the often understated affection that grows between emigrants in a different land together.

I know hundreds of the great and good and the not so great or not so good shared that kind of relationship with Joan.

Nothing was so serious that her booming laugh and quick wit could not make you catch yourself and smile.

She brightened up many a dreary day.

She was the Sunday in every week.

She told wonderful stories, including the one where she hung up on the White House because she thought someone was pranking her.

Ronald Reagan was calling to accept Doctor Cahill’s invite to be the medalist at the American Irish Historical Society banquet.

I last saw her two weeks ago at the dedication of the Kevin Cahill Library at Lenox Hill hospital.

She was her usual gossipy, wonderful self. She knew I was traveling overseas to London and Dublin and made me promise to call soon as I got back with all the news of the old country.

She was a proud Tubbercurry, County Sligo woman, a UCD graduate, an emigrant who did her best and then some for her tribe and everyone else too.

She and Doctor Cahill always ensured medical care for any undocumented Irish when I called them with a case. There was never a question about it or a fee sought.

To many an undocumented she was Joan of Arc.

It was a remarkable kind of decency on both their parts and Joan personified that best trait of the Irish to always love the underdog.

She dealt with presidents, movie stars, missionaries, great writers and they all loved her for her down-to-earth Irish decency, a country woman who treated everyone the same.

I know when the next big story breaks or gossipy scandal emerges my immediate thought will be to call Joan.

There was no one better to while away a conversation and have a laugh with.

Alas, she is gone from us, but a memory endures of a wonderful Irish woman who did her very best for everyone at all times.

A friend undergoing cancer treatment told me how she visited and stayed with him during the lonely nights when he was at his worst.

Another told of Joan unselfishly helping AIDS patients when they were being treated like lepers, even having some stay in her apartment.

She was the original heart of gold.

I can not say it better than that.

I’m so sorry I did not get to say goodbye, but typical Joan, she slipped away without fuss in a classic Irish goodbye

In iothlann De go gcastar sinn. Joan

 

With the passing of Joan Durcan this week a light went out of my life and a lot of other lives too.Dr. Kevin Cahill