Getting Personal: Mary Ellen O'Shaughnessey

Getting Personal: Mary Ellen O'Shaughnessey

Getting Personal is an email Q&A with a local personality. Here, a chat with Mary Ellen O'Shaugnessey, who recently retired from the University of Illinois, where she was the executive assistant dean in the College of Fine and Applied Arts. 

What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?

5:30 a.m. Take my dog, Chloe, a boxer/Lab mix, out for a short walk, drink a cup of coffee, do a bit of email and read.

What did you have for lunch today? Where? With whom?

Some turkey, a pear and half an avocado. Ate alone at my desk listening to music.

Best high school memory?

A party my closest friend had at her house. Her parents were home. She had a very strict father, and she did not tell him a band was going to play. Party did not last long.

Tell me about your favorite pair of shoes.

When I retired, I bought a very expensive pair of Thierry Rabotin walking shoes. It is all I can do not to wear them to bed. They are really comfortable.

What does a perfect Sunday afternoon include?

Reading The New York Times, walking my dog, going to the ARC to swim. Spending time with friends.

Was there one book that you read as a child that you still cherish? Own? Read?

I was raised Irish Catholic, so "The Lives of the Saints" was my all-time favorite. I adored St. Bernadette and always thought that like her, the Virgin Mary would appear to me. Still waiting.

Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?

Alaska. I worked as a shepherd in Ireland one summer, and while there, saw a travel show about Alaska, and since that time, have wanted to go there. The beauty is astonishing.

Tell me about your favorite pet.

I had to put our 16-year-old dog, Molly, down last August. She was a great family dog. Earlier this year, I adopted Chloe, an 81/2-year-old dog from the Humane Society who is so sweet. Guess I have two favorites.

Have you discovered that you are becoming like one of your parents? Which one and how?

My mother died when I was 9 and my dad two years later. I think I am probably more like my mother. From what I remember, she was a bit of a rebel and always organizing something.

What would you order for your last meal?

A piece of cheesecake from the Drift Inn restaurant in Yachats, Ore.

What can you not live without?

Solitude.

Who do you have on your iPod?

An eclectic mix of classical, rock 'n' roll, Broadway musicals and jazz. Now if I could only find it.

What's the happiest memory of your life?

Of course, the births of my three sons, and as a young child, my parents took me and my brother to Sandwich, Mass., on vacation. I fell in love with the ocean and did not want to go back to Michigan.

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite?

Sandra Day O'Connor, Colin Powell, Brian Williams.

What's the best advice you've ever been given?

Competence is the best revenge.

What's your best piece of advice?

Always, always be honest with yourself and others.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

My first job outside the family business was as a waitress at Mendelson's Resort on Lake Michigan in South Haven, Mich. Much like the resort in the movie "Dirty Dancing." We put a show on every Friday night for the guests. I played Toto in "The Wizard of Oz." Yes, the dog.

What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?

Taking the health educator job at McKinley Student Health Center in 1977. Quite honestly, it was my only offer, and I needed a job. I have no regrets. I have had a wonderful career at the university, where I would say the last half of my 35-year career was spent as an administrator.

Do you have a bad habit? What is it?

I am impatient.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

Does eating a bag of cookies count? I focus on my breathing and size up the situation. Swimming is my go-to place when I am really stressed.

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