Barb A. Moriarty, who helped others get sober after her struggle with addiction, dead at 75

An early adopter of computers, she did programming and helped people fix IT problems in her job at the Chicago Board Options Exchange.

SHARE Barb A. Moriarty, who helped others get sober after her struggle with addiction, dead at 75
Barb A. Moriarty.

Barb A. Moriarty.


Barb Moriarty helped hundreds of people get or stay sober.

She counseled them at support meetings or when they felt low. She supervised them in a recovery house. And she made them laugh with a no-nonsense humor honed from growing up as one of 10 kids in an Irish immigrant family on the South Side.

The people she helped listened to her because they knew she’d faced the same struggles.

Ms. Moriarty, 75, of St. Paul, Minnesota, died last month of complications from lung cancer and emphysema at Woodwinds Hospital in Woodbury, Minnesota.

Her hospital room was often filled with so much laughter it sounded like a party was going on, said her friend Amy McPartlin.

She grew up on the South Side of Chicago in Burnside, the daughter of Kate and Timothy “Bob” Moriarty, a sewer worker. Her father was from Murreagh, and her mother was from Ballyroe on Ireland’s Dingle peninsula, an area known for its untamed beauty.

Young Barb Moriarty.

Young Barb Moriarty grew up in Burnside.


“She was a tomboy,” said her sister Mary Therese Pallasch. “She used to write some great football plays.”

“She spent as much time at the lake as she could as a kid,” said her son Dan Kahn.

Early on, she swam at Rainbow Beach and Tuley Park. Later in life, she’d swim at hotel pools or in Lake Michigan off of Calumet Park.

“We’re all part fish,” she used to say.

Barb Moriarty.

Barb Moriarty.


Young Barb went to St. Joachim grade school at 91st Street and Langley. Before attending St. Xavier University, she went to Mercy High School, operated by the Sisters of Mercy. She entered their novitiate but left before taking final vows. She was married more than 20 years to Journet Kahn until they divorced.

They lived for a couple of years in Athens, Greece, where her then-husband was a professor. Later, they settled in Beverly.

Barb Moriarty and her son Dan.

Barb Moriarty and her son Dan.


An early adopter of computers, Ms. Moriarty did some programming and helped people fix IT problems in her job at the Chicago Board Options Exchange.

Twelve years ago she entered a program in Minnesota for treatment of alcoholism. She stayed for a year in a Transitions sober-living house for women, then continued to work there. Her son said she also worked for another recovery and sober-living organization, The Retreat.

“I can’t even describe the force of her here,” said her friend Kate Wade. “She was a constant to any woman who needed support” in a state that some in 12-step programs refer to as “Minnesober.”

If a woman was in a bad situation at home and had to move out, Wade said, “She’d show up with the packing tape and her time.”

“She helped a lot of people get sober, probably hundreds,” her son said. “She was a big presence in the recovery community here in St. Paul.”

Ms. Moriarty sometimes drove for Lyft and enjoyed hearing stories from her customers, according to her son.

He said some of his favorite times were “watching movies with her, just hanging out and talking.”

He said his mother enjoyed the films “Black 47,” about An Gorta Mor — Ireland’s Great Hunger — and the Akira Kurosawa classic “Ikiru,” about a Japanese civil servant searching for meaning after a terminal diagnosis.

Her favorite expressions were “What a riot!” and “Cool beans,” McPartlin said.

Whenever she visited Chicago, she’d bring back a pound of hand-cut bacon to Minnesota for McPartlin and her dog.

Before becoming sober, Ms. Moriarty was known for making delicious rum-infused holiday eggnog. She also made honey cake and an Irish mutton dish known as “Dingle pie.”

Ms. Moriarty’s service has been held. In addition to her son Dan and sister Mary Therese Pallasch, she is survived by another sister, Irene Moriarty, her grandchildren Maximilian and Sarah and her cats Siobhán and Siggy.

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