Posts Tagged ‘Jessica O’Dwyer’

My father’s obituary

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

Rest in peace, Dad.

Robert Joseph O’Dwyer (Bob) died of natural causes in San Diego, California on July 4, 2018. He was eighty-nine. Bob was the first of his strain of the O’Dwyer clan born on U.S. soil. His parents met and married in Queens, New York, after emigrating from Ireland and Scotland in search of better lives. Bob’s mother supported Bob and his three younger siblings as a teacher in New York City public schools. Bob’s father had served in the trenches during World War One and, suffering the effects of mustard gas, worked sporadically as a tailor.

Bob spoke fondly of a boyhood that involved frequent fisticuffs, street stickball, and evening runs to the neighborhood tavern to “rush the growler” (buy beer) for assorted relatives and friends. True to his Irish heritage, Bob was a skilled raconteur and collector of jokes, gifted at telling stories. Family gatherings often ended with rounds of “Danny Boy” and “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” sung to the mournful strains of bagpipes.

In 1950, Bob graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy (Kings Point) with a degree in engineering. He enlisted in the United States Navy and served during the Korean War. While stationed in Newport News, Virginia, Bob was set up on a blind date with local girl Gerry Quick, who was home on vacation from her job as a Radio City Music Hall Rockette. Both agreed it was love at first sight. They married in 1953, forging a grand and happy union that produced five children and lasted sixty-three years.

After leaving the Navy, Bob tried several professions before he found his calling as an educator. He taught at Kings Point and Aviation High School in Queens and supervised the Night Apprentice Program at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Chelsea. He retired as Assistant Principal at Alfred E. Smith Vocational High School in the South Bronx. Bob earned an MBA from St. John’s University and a Certificate of Advanced Study from NYU. He served as shop steward of his teachers’ union.

Bob and Gerry lived in Virginia and Maryland; Syosset, Long Island; and a block from the Atlantic Ocean at the Jersey Shore. Upon retiring, the couple moved to San Diego, where Bob volunteered at Old Town, the Star of India, and in Emergency Management. Bob was a faithful Catholic who attended daily Mass at San Rafael Church in Rancho Bernardo. He was an avid bridge player who loved classic films, historic documentaries, and good food. His Thanksgiving stuffing was legendary.

Bob was predeceased by his wife Gerry, parents Roger and Catherine, and sister Margaret Pineda. His siblings Roger O’Dwyer, Jr., and Mary Sheehan survive him. Bob is also survived by children Patrice O’Dwyer, Adrienne Phillips (Paul), Jessica O’Dwyer (Tim Berger), Robert O’Dwyer, Jr., and Deanna O’Dwyer Swensen (David); eight grandchildren; one great-granddaughter; and nieces and nephews.

A funeral Mass will be held at 10 AM, August 20 at San Rafael Catholic Church, 17252 Bernardo Center Drive, with a reception following. After the reception, Bob’s ashes will be interred alongside Gerry’s at Miramar National Cemetery.



“My Mother, the Rockette”

Friday, July 11th, 2014

A few months ago, a friend told me about a phenomenon founded by Ann Img called Listen To Your Mother, in which writers submit essays about any and all facets of motherhood or mothering, and read the pieces aloud on stages in 32 cities across the country. The official description is “A national series of orginal live readings shared locally on stages and globally via social media.”

I submitted an essay about my mom, “My Mother, the Rockette,” and was thrilled when the producers in my region, Kim Thompson Steel and Kirsten Nicholson Patel, chose me to read it for the May 2014 performance at the Brava Theater in San Francisco. The evening’s show, including my reading, is posted on on the Listen To Your Mother YouTube channel.

I urge you to check out the Listen To Your Mother website for information about next year’s auditions. The experience was challenging, positive, and fun from start to finish. Try out if you can! Or look for a live performance. Hope you enjoy!

My Mother, the Rockette on YouTube.

Image credit: Damian Steel


On the radio and A to Z

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

I’ve written a few essays lately, which feels great after many months of writing no essays. One appears in the Mamas Write anthology, of which I am very proud and which is available now on Amazon, and another on the “Write On Mamas” website, for an A to Z blog challenge, titled “Q is for Quiet.”

The first paragraph of my Q contribution reads:

In the days when my parents were telling stories, before their memories of the past began to disappear, my father liked to say that every night when he and my mom put me to bed and closed the door, I was talking. The next morning, when they returned to wake me up, they opened the door to find me still talking. For all they knew, according to Dad, I’d been moving my mouth for a solid ten hours. I was the third of five children, born to two verbal parents skilled at spinning yarns, and sandwiched among siblings who learned from the masters. To be heard in that crowd, I needed to yammer and jaw: “Listen to me! Over here! I, too, have something to say!”

You can read the rest here.

In addition, I wrote a piece that aired on our local NPR affiliate, KQED, ”Sugar High,” about my failed attempts this Lent to give up sugar. The idea came to me one Friday night at a weekly soup supper our church hosts during Lent’s 40 days, when all I kept thinking about was the possibility of someone serving a rogue dessert. Rarely, if ever, has an essay come to me with so little effort.

I’m hoping to stay inspired. De-cluttering was the first step. Just getting rid of stuff cleared space not only in our house but also as in my mind. It’s a start.



Interview with the Cooperative for Education

Monday, January 20th, 2014

The Cooperative for Education, an NGO that works in Guatemala, interviewed me about Mamalita, and our connection to our children’s birth country.

Here’s the opening paragraph:

Jessica O’Dwyer knows Guatemala. She and her husband Tim adopted two children, Olivia and Mateo, from the land of eternal spring. Her memoir, Mamalita, is a beautiful account of her dogged pursuit to complete Olivia’s stalled adoption—even quitting her job to move to Antigua! In the past 12 years, Jessica and her family have been back to visit Guatemala many times, and have intentionally cultivated a connection with their children’s country of birth. We interviewed Jessica about writing the book and the ways in which she stays connected with Guatemala. Enjoy! -

See more at:

Thanks for reading!






Mamalita at Literary Mama

Monday, November 12th, 2012

Me again. There’s so much happening in Guatemala lately–a terrible earthquake and a monster aftershock, the shooting of unarmed protestors by the military in Totonicapan. But, at the moment, I’m not here to write about that.

Right now, I’m posting a link to A Conversation with Jessica O’Dwyer, published this week at Literary Mama by my friend and writing colleague, Marianne Lonsdale. 

Thank you, Marianne and Literary Mama. I’m honored!


Pictures for my mother and father

Monday, July 23rd, 2012



Dear Mom and Dad:

Here are the pictures you asked me to take of Olivia and Mateo wearing their new sneakers.

As you can see, I got Mateo’s, but somehow missed including Olivia’s. Their beautiful smiles, though—those I managed to capture.

This has been our best summer in San Diego ever. We cherish every single minute we spent with you.

With love, always. ~


A book for Memorial Day: “You Know When the Men Are Gone” by Siobhan Fallon

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

On Monday, the kids wanted to go to a certain playground they like in the city, and I agreed, as long as we could stop by the San Francisco National Cemetery on the Presidio first. It was Memorial Day, and in some small way, I wanted to pay my respects to the 30,000 soldiers who are buried there. Both kids protested, but once we entered the cemetery and they were confronted with the long, straight rows of white headstones that stretched across acres of grass, they stopped complaining. The ground we stood on felt hallowed.

Today, as I looked at my photos, I thought of a book I read recently, that has nothing to do with adoption or Guatemala, but that I loved reading and still think about: You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon. The book is a series of eight short stories about life on the army base at Fort Hood, Texas, where U.S. soldiers bound for Iraq and Afghanistan are deployed, or waiting to be deployed, or are just returning from deployment. What’s fascinating about the collection is that Fallon focuses mainly on the wives who are left behind when their soldiers leave, painting a vivid, truthful, passionate, funny, and sad picture of how spouses cope and manage and carry on in the face of painful and scary absences. Fallon knows her subject: she’s a writer/military spouse who lived at Fort Hood when her Army major husband was deployed to Iraq for two tours of duty.

You Know When the Men Are Gone was chosen as a Best Book Pick of 2011 by the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Self magazine, the Los Angeles Public Library, and Utah’s The Spectrum. Check out Siobhan Fallon’s author website here.


Pictures from a service trip to Guatemala, part 2

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Before leaving the subject of my service trip to Guatemala, I’m posting a few more photos of places we went and people we met. The orphanages we visited are privately (not government) run and funded, mainly by donations from individuals and families. Our trip was led by adoptive mom Leceta Chisholm Guibault, founder of  “Service Trips to Guatemala with Leceta,” aka “Team Ceta” (top row, far left), and Sandra Hurst (top row, third from left), long-time staffer from sponsor Orphan Resources International (ORI).  Several folks have emailed me with questions about my experience. Here’s a sampling, with my answers:

What is a service trip and why did you choose to go on one?

A service trip can be specifically project-based, such as building a house or community center, setting up or working in a medical clinic, installing water filters or stoves, or teaching skills or languages. Over the years, I’ve seen countless teams of volunteers on my flights to Guatemala and I was curious about the phenemenon. I chose to join “Team Ceta” because I have long admired Leceta Guibault’s leadership in the international adoption community.

What did you do on your trip?

Each service trip is different, according to current need. On this sojourn, most of Team Ceta and ORI’s efforts centered on an orphanage, Misioneros del Camino, founded and run by the inspirational Leonor Portelo, a Cuban-born widow who has dedicated her life to helping the children of Guatemala since 1986. Team Ceta volunteers who possess skills in working with children with disabilities and/or speech therapy assisted in the neurological clinic. Others built and installed two bookshelves, and painted the exterior of the dining hall. One volunteer organized and led a Fun Run in which we all participated; others supervised crafts and photography projects. In addition, we hosted activities for the children at Rosa de Amor and My Special Treasure orphanages. There was no shortage of things to do.

Wasn’t it hard on the children for you to interact with them for only a brief time?

I speak a little bit of Spanish, which allowed me to chat with the kids at each of the orphanages we visited and ask their opinions. Perhaps they were only being polite, but every one of them said they liked having us there, that it was something different to do, someone else to talk to; that our conversations were interesting, about a world beyond the orphanage fence. I should emphasize that most volunteers, in general, do not interact with children to the same degree that Team Ceta did on this trip, but focus their efforts on building, painting, or delivering food or health services.

Guatemala can be a dangerous country. Did you feel safe?

Team Ceta and ORI assign volunteers to serve only in areas that are known to be safe for tourists, around Lake Atitlan and Antigua. We traveled by private shuttle or bus, with a bilingual guide.

How were the accommodations? What about the food?

We bunked two to a room in a lovely mission home used by Orphan Resources International called “My Father’s House.”  The food was fabulous. In fact, I think this was the first trip I’ve ever taken to Guatemala where I didn’t lose weight.

Would you go on another service trip?

Absolutely yes. The sooner the better! ~


Photo above, top from left: Leceta Chisholm Guibault, Alison Caissie, Sandra Hurst, Dianne Sharpe, Meghan Talbot, Stephanie Finney, Adele Griffith, Jessica O’Dwyer. Bottom row, from left: Robyn Caissie, Kahleah Guibault, Hilary Umbach, Marcia Harvey Talbot, Mary Bain Sebastian. Photograph courtesy Marcia Talbot Photography.

Photos below: Painting the dining hall, young friends, food delivery truck, two children, the new bookshelves, Fun Run, neurological clinic, more young friends, blue door. Dining hall photo courtesy of Adele Griffith. Photos of young friends, Fun Run, and blue door courtesy Mary Bain Sebastian Photography.




Pictures from a service trip to Guatemala

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012


It’s Wednesday and I’m still struggling to regain my equilibrium after a 10-day service trip to Guatemala headed by adoptive mom Leceta Chisholm Guibault, affiliated with Orphan Resources International in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. Among other activities, we volunteered at an orphanage and neurological clinic, painted the exterior of a large building, hosted a Fun Run, and delivered food (lots of it–100 pound bags of beans and rice; sacks full of maseca to hand-make tortillas; more sugar than I would have imagined; and fortified powder to constitute a special protein-enhanced milk).

I met other women as in love with Guatemala as I am, and dozens of children I will never forget.


Over the next few weeks, I hope to make sense of it all. In the meantime, here are photos from our first days, beginning with my children’s send-off in California that included suitcases bulging with donations (thank-you, friends!), to sorting clothes into categories with fellow volunteer and adoptive mom Mary Bain Sebastian (above), to stops in Panajachel and Santa Cruz, on Lake Atitlan.

Trusting a picture can indeed say a thousand words. ~



Alfombras and cascarones

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

I’ve never spent Semana Santa in Antigua, but someday!

However, as I mentioned in an earlier post, our trip to Guatemala this year coincided with Ash Wednesday, and we were lucky enough to view a few spectacular alfombras, or sawdust carpets. I’ve posted photos here, taken at the churches in San Felipe de Jesus (above), at La Merced, and La Cathedral (below).

At the very bottom, you’ll see a photo of Olivia with bits of paper in her hair. This Ash Wednesday tradition is known as cascarones, where children take hollowed-out eggs filled with pica pica, or small colorful bits of paper, and smash them against each others’ heads.  Last year, we celebrated Ash Wednesday in Panajachel, where we noticed teenagers smashing real eggs all over each other. Not sure if that’s unique to teenagers, or Panajachel, but our children loved watching the oozing yolks. 

Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Sacred Season!