At 22, Rose Walsh was busy caring for her two babies, born 10 months apart in February and December of 1957.
She was thrilled about starting a family. “She just loved children,” said her husband, Edmond. She wound up having six. But Rose Walsh could sense something unusual about her first two, Brian and young Edmond. They weren’t hitting developmental milestones.
The Walshes didn’t know it but the boys were born with PKU, a genetic disorder that inhibits the processing of protein. Children with Phenylketonuria must eat a low-protein diet, but Brian and Edmond were born before PKU screening of infants became mandatory in the U.S. Brain damage and intellectual disabilities resulted.
Some friends and doctors told Mrs. Walsh to place them in an institution. “She just said, ‘We’re going to raise these kids in our house as best as we can,’” her husband said.
Brian and Edmond attended school. They became familiar figures around Glencoe, where they grew up. They rode their bikes all over town, and the local police officers, bankers, librarians and gas station attendants “knew the boys and looked out for them,” their father said.
“Both of them are charming and delightful,” said their younger brother, Mike Walsh. “They were fixtures in the community. The New Trier Girls Club was sending volunteers over” to help them with physical therapy. “Jack Brickhouse’s daughter was one.”
“Several of the girls that came went into special ed [professions],” her husband said.
When her children were older, Mrs. Walsh studied at Oakton College and Northeastern University. She became a special education teacher, a career choice influenced by her sons’ challenges.
“We were in college at the same time,” Mike Walsh said, “and she got straight A’s.”
The Walsh kids absorbed their parents’ humor and determination, and their conviction that the future holds joys as well as sorrows. “She had zero patience for self-indulgence,” Mike Walsh said. Her philosophy: “Don’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself. That’s life. Keep moving.”
Mrs. Walsh, 80, died Tuesday of lung cancer at her home in Northbrook.
She grew up Rose Anne Dougherty at Winthrop and Argyle. Her widowed mom washed dishes to make extra money. But there were “Eloise” moments. Because her mother also styled hair at the Edgewater Beach Hotel, young Rose was able to ice skate at the posh address.
She played organ at morning Mass at St. Thomas of Canterbury church in Uptown, where the BVM nuns fed her pancakes. “She just loved those nuns,” her husband said. “Every Christmas, we had to send them money.” She went to Immaculata High School.
She met her future husband at a young peoples’ social at St. Thomas. “Rose was over talking to Father John Cunningham, telling him she wanted to be a nun,” her husband said. “And he said, ‘I don’t think so, Rosie … there’s a nice young man. Why don’t you go with him to the hardware store?’ ”
It was Edmond Walsh. She accompanied him on his errand. “She was beautiful. She was bright,” he said. “She was fun.”
They got engaged while he was serving in the Army and married in 1956. He worked as a teacher and served as principal from 1968 to 1990 at Haines grade school in Chinatown.
In 1981, she became a special education teacher in the Diamond Lake school district in the Mundelein area. When a child was diagnosed with a learning difference, parents would say, “‘That’s OK, Mrs. Walsh will take care of it,’” her husband said.
She wrote her master’s thesis on attention deficit disorder. “This was before anybody was even thinking about it,” Mike Walsh said.
She kept her brain active with sudoku and crossword puzzles. She did algebra for fun. A gourmet cook, she made sublime pork chops. “One night she made 23 pork chops, and she turned around to eat them and they were all gone,” said her husband, who admitted to being one of seven hungry Walsh culprits. She also studied at the Chicago Botanic Garden and became a master gardener.
She was active with the Village Gardeners Club and the Glencoe Women’s Library Club, where she was often the first to volunteer to host events. “Nothing was too hard for Rose,” said a friend, Rae Fritz.
The Walshes enjoyed family vacations in Brown County, Ind. When their children were grown, Rose and Edmond Walsh visited London, Paris, Hong Kong, Turkey, and India.
She is also survived by a daughter, Katie Stout; two more sons, Daniel and Timothy, and nine grandchildren. Visitation is 4 to 9 p.m. Friday at Donnellan Family Funeral Home, 10045 Skokie Blvd., Skokie. A funeral Mass will be held at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Sacred Heart Church, 1077 Tower Road, Winnetka.