by Betsie Freeman, Omaha World-Herald, May 11, 2014
Most people spent New Year’s Eve 1999 either celebrating or worrying about Y2K — the impact of the new millennium on everyday life.
Never one to follow convention, Margaret Sheehan Fitzgerald Gallagher did something different: With her stepdaughter, she traveled to Nevada and joined a nuclear weapons protest at a testing site. She was 81 at the time.
Friends and relatives expected nothing less. Gallagher, known as Peg, had a passion for social justice issues such as racism, the death penalty and wars she considered to be unjust.
“War and violence — she was just completely and utterly against it,” said granddaughter Joan Manriquez of New York City. “She spent a lot of time and energy protesting that.”
Gallagher was arrested several times, including the day she participated in a “die-in” at the then-Qwest Center Omaha in 2009, when she was 91. She spent the last year at Immanuel Fontenelle nursing home, and died Tuesday at age 96 after a bad fall over the weekend.
Son Rich Fitzgerald, an Omaha dentist, said his mom talked to him about injustice and inequality from the time he was a young boy.
Seeing African-Americans on television, for instance, was an opportunity to talk about employment discrimination. If he was a manager when he grew up, she told him, she expected him to hire minorities.
The lessons stuck. Fitzgerald said he accompanied his mom to protests against the Iraq War on Dodge Street during rush hour each Wednesday for several months.
Gallagher herself faced discrimination. After her first husband died in the early 1960s, she needed work and applied for a job as a real estate saleswoman. When she was turned down because of her gender, she started Shamrock Realty with a friend, breaking a barrier in that industry. Ten years later, she broke another one when she became the first woman agent at the Byron Reed Co., her son said.
Gallagher was born in Omaha and graduated in 1936 from Central High School, where she was the prom queen. She got a teaching certificate from Duchesne College. She married Eugene Fitzgerald in the early 1940s, and he died in 1963. She married Joe Gallagher, who also was widowed, in 1968.
She had a reputation for perseverance.
“She was gentle and not judgmental, but still very persistent. When she saw something that she felt was wrong, she would continue to work against the wrong any way she could,” Rich Fitzgerald said.
She used that persistence and her powers of persuasion to put together an anti-war coalition of rabbis, priests, pastors and representatives of Islam. They filled St. Cecilia Cathedral for a prayer for peace service during the first Persian Gulf War.
Gallagher was a devout Catholic who never missed Mass. She also participated in an ecumenical Bible study group.
In 2005, she received a Women of Wisdom Award from the University of Nebraska at Omaha Program for Women and Successful Aging. It cited her longtime activism with the League of Women Voters and Nebraskans for Peace. She also got a lifetime achievement award from the Douglas County Democratic Party.
But her family came first, her son and granddaughter said.
Besides Manriquez and Rich Fitzgerald, survivors include sons Mike and Terry Fitzgerald, 28 other grandchildren and 47 great-grandchildren.
Scores of them will be present for Saturday’s 11 a.m. funeral Mass at Holy Name Catholic Church, 2901 Fontenelle Blvd.
Manriquez said she’ll remember three things about Gallagher above everything else:
“Her zest for life, her incredible joy in her family and her devotion to her grandchildren and children. She never let a birthday go by without a note.”
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Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net. Go to http://baltimorenonviolencecenter.blogspot.com/
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs