Remembering Nana

Beloved ‘Nana’ inspires a family’s generosity

Rita McGonnigle was not only Nana, but counselor, mediator, mentor and chauffeur to her five grandchildren, Paul, Brandon, Jason, Rob and Shana. She supported them unconditionally in every way, playing trivia and card games for pennies, sharing a love of the Red Sox and rarely missing a Little League game.

Her love was returned in multiples. “She was the first person I called when the Sox won the World Series in 2004,” says her grandson, Jason Hehir. “But her phone was busy, because all of her grandkids were calling.”

A connection to Boston Children’s

While playing golf with friends, Jason, 13, was struck in the temple with a golf ball. Family rallied around him, and his Nana, Rita, was an important part of that circle.

Transferred to Boston Children’s, Jason had an emergency neurosurgery to relieve bleeding on his brain. He spent more than a week at the hospital, and Rita was there every day to be with her family, and to provide comfort to others on the floor. After a summer spent in speech therapy, Jason was well on his way to recovery, but it was just the beginning of his grandmother’s relationship with Boston Children’s.

Crediting neurosurgeon Joseph Madsen, MD, for his impeccable skill and care that saved her grandson’s life, Rita called in and pledged $25 to the WBZ Telethon for the hospital. It became an annual tradition, as did writing Dr. Madsen to update him on how well Jason was doing. Even when Rita was in her mid 90s, vision failing from macular degeneration, she’d dictate the letter to her daughter, Kate.

Continuing Rita’s legacy

When Rita passed away a month shy of her 96th birthday, family members reflected on this woman whose selflessness was the soul of their family. In her memory, they made a $50,000 gift to establish the Rita McGonnigle Endowment Fund in support of the hospital’s Child Life and Patient Services programs. These areas offer hope and happiness—pizza nights, art and music therapy, resources for siblings and parents, and much more.

“The hospital is a tough place to be, and she recognized that,” Jason says. “But she also recognized there are pockets of happiness—the library, the playrooms. We can’t give kids a cure. We can’t give hands-on medical assistance. But our family’s attributes have always been kindness, selflessness and compassion, and with this fund, that’s what we can offer to everyone who walks through these doors. It’s a spiritual monument to my grandmother to put her kindness back into the world.”

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