Judy Mooney: She showed us how to live

Savannah Morning News

Aug. 27, 2017

 

In the end it was her grip. It was strong. It was firm. She wasn’t letting go. Until the last day of her life Judy Mooney, who passed away two weeks ago, never wanted to lose that connection. It felt like a direct line to her soul. If she didn’t have the strength to talk she wanted to touch. But that makes sense. This woman was a sculptor. She could shape a nose that looks like a nose. She could catch an expression – pain, fatigue, determination, angst. She could create a gesture. She had a feel for figures from the Gullah culture. She didn’t shy away from complexity or challenge. Witness the piece she called “Rosa Parks, Back of the Bus,” multiple figures, each small, each detailed.

She could shape a mean and tasty crab cake, too, even if she didn’t eat them.

To look at the bronze and ceramic figures in her Ardsley Park living room you’d think she had been doing this her whole life. Wrong. She went from the corporate world to the artist studio, from dressing for success as the vice president of community development at the YMCA in Charlotte, to sitting behind a potter’s wheel with a glazing tong, a wooden knife, a sponge, all within arm’s length. She moved from overseeing budgets and supervising staff to organizing artist workshops at Wildacres Retreat, N.C., dealing with area galleries that still have her work and holing away in her studio.

Did she have any idea this is what she would do, that this would become her passion? I asked this question, again and again. It’s a real issue for people who jump off the treadwheel, who find themselves with time, who have to invent the day. Nope, she said. She just wanted to take some art classes. So she did – at Armstrong. Her world – and that of her husband, Pat, an able companion – turned to art. With matching pony tails, Birkenstocks and one car between them (Pat rode his bike to work), they could be seen at most openings. They were a team.

When she started undergoing treatment for cancer she cut her hair to anticipate a loss of hair that never happened. Pat cut his too. He supported her treatment; she indulged his humor.

Pat is a jokester, a jester, a listener. For years he worked as a mental health counselor at SCAD but Pat took it a step further. During exams he morphed into the Pizza Fairy, delivering boxes of pizza to the library, the dorm, the student center. He had his stock jokes. He could wiggle his ears, sing wacky birthday songs, tell a story at the drop of a hat. Judy would roll her eyes, roll with Pat.

He could ride his bike forever. When they met 35 years ago in Louisiana, neither was interested in marrying a second time. They worked on YMCA-charity rides, triathlons, fundraisers. They started training together. They started taking individually mapped week-long bike rides all over the country with friends.

To Judy, he was “Pat Mooney,” two names, first and last.

To her grandchildren, she was Meems, Pat was Bebop because he used to sing the kids to sleep but not before a tickle and a belly of laughs.

When the couple moved to Savannah they might have had 12 bikes between them, mountain bikes, tandems, racing bikes.

They continued to peddle. When Judy was about to turn 70 she decided to ride in the annual 70-mile bike ride in and around Savannah. She recruited me and others. We trained – sort of – on Sundays, riding around the base at Hunter Army Airfield, stopping for coffee at Starbuck’s at Twelve Oaks, giving one another pep talks.

And then the cancer hit. They threw everything they had at it. In between procedures Pat stuck around the house, played his guitar, supervised her supplements, quit his job (“We don’t know how long Judy will have. I want to be here”). Judy talked about getting back into the studio. People visited. Children, grandchildren, artist friends. Again and again. She made it to her 76th July birthday when no one thought she would, then to Pat’s 69th, then to their anniversary, 32 years. She went from avocados to ice cream to chips of ice. As she lost weight her blue eyes got bigger and brighter. She could still whisper, “I love you.” When someone mentioned a mutual friend’s intention to visit, she mouthed the words, “Tell her not to wait too long.”

In the last few days, her grip started to give way. She was growing weak. The connection was lessening. She could no longer hold on.

When Pat’s phone call came – “Judy has gone on to that giant sculptor studio in the sky” – I was not surprised. But I was and am sad. I still think about dropping by that living room.  I still want to hold that hand.