Married at 19, Kathy Quinn several years later became a single parent with children ages 6 and 3. So she went back to college and then to law school.
She would take the children to parks and study her law books in a lawn chair while the kids played.
“Her story is one of heroic struggle,” said son Dominic Longo. “We were underwater financially, and she had a high school diploma and the two of us. She had a determination about her that I continue to marvel at and admire.”
Kathleen Quinn, first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995, died Saturday from the effects of bone-marrow cancer. She was 64.
“She told me cancer was a gift,” said daughter Carrie Palmesano. “With each new challenge, I saw a change in her more beautiful than the previous. She lived deliberately. She taught joy and she taught beauty, with a focus on God and family.”
Quinn grew up in Omaha, graduating from Duchesne Academy and attending Creighton University for three semesters before her first marriage. After a divorce, she formed a tight trio with her daughter and son as they grew up.
Meanwhile, she earned a business degree and then a law degree from Creighton, graduating magna cum laude.
She became a law clerk for Judge Donald Lay of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and then worked for the Fitzgerald Brown and Kutak Rock law firms. Later, she served as vice president and senior counsel for Sitel Corp.
At 44, she married banker Mark McMillan, whom she had met through friends five years earlier. In the 25 years they knew each other, he said, they took more than 100 trips, including many overseas “one country at a time.”
Besides travel, she enjoyed art fairs, decorating, gardening, dining, reading and spirituality. And in spite of being an introvert, McMillan said, she liked to make sure everyone at a party met everyone else.
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She also wanted people to achieve their potential.
“She would push you beyond your comfort zone in your professional life and your personal life to achieve greater things than you thought you could,” said McMillan, vice president for community banking at First National Bank of Omaha. “She did a great job with her kids.”
Palmesano, married and the mother of three, teaches honors English and American literature at South High School. Longo, who resides in New York City, holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University in Arabic and Islamic studies. He has lived in Egypt and is a management consultant for McKinsey & Co.
After treatment for her first bout with cancer, Quinn lived a healthful 12 years before being diagnosed with an unrelated breast cancer about five years ago. She survived that, but recently was diagnosed with a third cancer.
A brother had volunteered to provide a bone-marrow transplant, but her condition deteriorated before that could happen. When there was no longer hope for recovery, her husband said, members of the extended family gathered at her bedside to sing and to pray. And then she was taken off life support.
Visitation begins at 5 p.m. today, with a wake service at 7 p.m. at St. Stephen the Martyr Catholic Church. A funeral Mass will be celebrated there at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.
“She was very energetic when we were young,” her daughter said. “Her life let me know that nothing ever needs to hold a person back.”