BRANDON — For 15 years, starting when she was just 55 years old, Marjorie Patrick lived in a Brandon nursing home. She knew she would never live anywhere else. She had lived with multiple sclerosis since she was in her early 20s, and it had slowly taken her mobility and her independence.
She had every right to feel depressed and hopeless. But when the people who worked at the nursing home were feeling down, they invariably turned to Mrs. Patrick to lift their spirits.
"They always knew what room to go to when they needed cheering up," her daughter Deb Patrick said.
Complications from multiple sclerosis took Mrs. Patrick's life on Aug. 2. She was 70.
The sedentary life of her later years wasn't anything she would have chosen. Even while her disease was causing her increased pain and decreasing control over her own body, she loved fishing, sailing and camping with her family. She won plaques by indulging her passion for racing Corvettes.
"As the disease progressed, she lost the ability to use her legs to accelerate and brake," her younger daughter, Sandy Patrick, said. "They had to equip her Corvette with hand controls."
She was born Marjorie Cahalan and grew up in Bay City, Mich. From the time she was a child, she knew a boy named Donald Patrick and apparently always had a crush on him.
"When she was in high school, the story goes, she was pretty steady with another boy, and she had a date with him one night but canceled because my dad asked her out," Sandy Patrick said.
They married shortly after she finished high school. Career and family considerations led the family to move several times around the country, including stays in Chicago, Charlotte and several Florida cities.
It was in Charlotte that she and her husband joined a Corvette club and she started racing, mostly against other club members. She was a petite woman, not even 5 feet tall. Even while she had control of her leg muscles, her Corvette was outfitted with wooden blocks on the pedals so she could reach them.
When she wasn't racing, she was often on the water in the family's sailboat. Long sailing trips were a staple activity for the Patrick family, from the time the two daughters were children until long after they had grown up and left home.
Mrs. Patrick had started to show symptoms of multiple sclerosis shortly after she married, but because they were intermittent, the disease proved difficult to diagnose. In fact, it wasn't until some 20 years later that doctors identified the cause of her pain and loss of muscle control.
Even as the disease tightened its grip, Mrs. Patrick refused to let it define who she was. She never used a cane or a walker, preferring instead to hold onto furniture as she walked around her home. "Canes and walkers were for sick people," Deb Patrick said.
Mrs. Patrick was determined to enjoy every day of her life, her daughters said. When she wasn't able to do things she loved, she found new things to do that she loved just as much. In recent years, that meant cherishing the company of the staff at her home, the Brandon Health and Rehabilitation Center.
"She loved life," Sandy Patrick said. "And she loved people."
Besides her daughters, Mrs. Patrick is survived by her ex-husband, Donald, her brother Jim Cahalan and two grandchildren.
Marty Clear writes life stories about area residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.