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Anne Carley Gallun, Who Died Of COVID-19, Remembered By Relatives

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Anne Carley Gallun loved birthdays, especially her own. She loved gathering with family and friends and to mark the occasion by reading cards.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANNE CARLEY GALLUN: Hey buddy (ph), I love you (unintelligible).

SIMON: And Anne Carley Gallun was a pioneer. When she was born in 1948, children with Down syndrome were routinely institutionalized. Anne's sister, Mary Pat Grafwallner, says the doctors their parents met with were not optimistic.

MARY PAT GRAFWALLNER: They were concerned that she wouldn't be able to feed herself or talk.

SIMON: But Anne Carley's parents weren't convinced.

GRAFWALLNER: They went all over the Midwest to different doctors. And my parents always said we went to Mayo Clinic. And Mayo Clinic said to them, take her home, love her, provide a schedule, and get her involved in the community. And that's exactly what they did.

SIMON: What was she like as a kid?

GRAFWALLNER: Much more outgoing than I was. She knew everybody's phone number on the block. She knew everybody's birthdate. She would ring doorbells and sit at kitchen tables and chit chat because she always wanted to know what was new with each and every family.

SIMON: And so Anne Carley Gallun became a favorite in her Milwaukee neighborhood. She broke barriers and defied conventional wisdom. Her life was living proof that folding a person with disabilities into a community can benefit everyone.

Anne Carley Gallun died this summer of COVID-19. She was 71 - a relentlessly social and loving woman, separated from her family and most everybody else for the last two weeks of her life. Her niece, Maggie Haddock, recalled her aunt as somebody who brightened life for people all around her.

MAGGIE HADDOCK: I remember, particularly when I was 16 and got my license, one of the things that I enjoyed doing was picking her up from her group home and taking her to the latest Disney movie that was released in the theaters or going out to lunch or out to ice cream or even sometimes just to Walgreens for her to walk around. She brought so much joy to our lives and obviously brought out the goodness in us.

SIMON: Sounds like she found joy wherever she looked.

HADDOCK: She really did. And she was someone who was - I would describe her as always thrilled. Any time you called her or saw her, she was just - had so - evoked so much joy. And she was not afraid to show her love through her actions, through her words, even her hugs. She was a great hugger.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh. Mary Pat, she was a very prolific writer, too, I gather.

GRAFWALLNER: Oh, she loved to write. That was her favorite thing. And I think Maggie has a sample of one of the letters that she wrote 'cause we have boxes of them.

HADDOCK: I usually would get a few letters a week from her.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh.

HADDOCK: What's special about this one is Anne was always so good at really highlighting people's strengths.

SIMON: Yeah.

HADDOCK: She would tell people what they were good at. So - dear Maggie - Charlie mentioned in this letter is my son - Charlie, he is lucky to have such a wonderful mother. I love you very much, Anne.

SIMON: And when the pandemic hit, did she understand why you couldn't see each other?

GRAFWALLNER: It was very hard for her to figure this all out. Anne - one of her social things that she loved to do was to go to a doctor. And how we explained it to her was people are getting sick, and hospitals can't take care of all these patients, so we need to take care of ourselves. And we need to stay put. And she understood that she needed to listen to the doctors because those were very important people. And then after I'd say the reason why she'd have to stay in because of COVID, she'd always say, not me, not me.

GALLUN: I'm not going to get sick - she would say that.

GRAFWALLNER: All the time.

HADDOCK: She would say that. And even though we weren't able to see her, we - she still kept up with writing letters and would call up all of us daily, even sometimes multiple times.

SIMON: As I don't have to tell you, we're speaking at a time when the coronavirus is surging. What would you like the world, in a way, to take from the memory of Anne Carley?

GRAFWALLNER: Dealing with Anne's death with COVID, it's been extremely hard to see others' viewpoints of COVID as not being real. I can't tell you how many people said to me, well, what else was wrong with her? It wasn't just COVID that caused her death. And I feel like I - people still don't understand it and understand the severity of COVID.

HADDOCK: I think people need to understand, too, that we're not the only family who has lost a loved one to this disease, to this virus. And for things to get better, we have to all do our part. And we have to protect those who are vulnerable - people like Anne.

GRAFWALLNER: You know, when she called, she always said to me, I'm lucky to have you. And I think this world has to know that we're lucky to have each other. And we need to be responsible for each other.

SIMON: Maggie Haddock and Mary Pat Grafwallner, the niece and the sister of Anne Carley. And may her memory be a blessing.

HADDOCK: Thank you.

GRAFWALLNER: It is.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOS DAYS FEAT. TOMMY GUERRERO AND JOSH LIPPI'S "STARLIGHT LULLABY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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