Posted by: SJS | May 8, 2018

Philadephia Irish Stoicism– the will to survive

Mary Young Stahley 1926Mary Young Stahley, Red’s mother and my grandmother (“Nana”) was about as Irish as they came in the early part of the 20th century in Philadelphia.  Her parents were both immigrants from Ireland and Mary was the eldest of six children.  Her father was a fireman and her mother was a full time homemaker with her hands full.

In 1918, when Mary was just 13, her mother died when she fell victim to the Spanish Influenza Epidemic which moved rapidly through the population and took so many lives in short order.  Mary was forced to leave school in the eighth grade and assume the role of surrogate mother to her five younger siblings.  She never made it to high school but raised her siblings, all of whom lived successful and very good lives.

From that young age, Mary’s life was governed by a strong streak of Irish stoicism with an overpowering awareness of the fragility and briefness of human life.  The optimism and unbounded ambition that characterized the Irish experience of the O’Neill family was nowhere present in the earliest years of George “Red” Stahley.  Life was about a fierce protectiveness and the need to simply survive.

I well remember Nana telling me countless times when I was a child that every day of my father’s Navy service overseas in WWII was pure torture.  Her only child was far away on the front lines in Europe and the South Pacific.  Nana lived in constant dread of receiving that telegram from the War Department or the arrival of the black car at the front door bringing the military officer and the parish priest to deliver the worst news possible.

Something tells me that Red’s survival on the PTs owes more to his mother’s influence than I previously knew.  In his eyes, no German fighter pilot or sailor in the Imperial Japanese Navy was more formidable than Mary Young Stahley.  So surviving and making it home was simply a task that had to be accomplished.

Despite her bright smile and expansive personality, Nana Stahley always carried within her a grim Irish fatalism that knew only too well that human life can be brutal, unforgiving, and cruel.  As I reflect back on her life and all the lives she touched, I can see clearly how well that Irish stoicism served her, my grandfather (Pop). my father and all of us who had the good fortune to be related to her.  Everything for Mary Young Stahley was about survival and taking care of those closest to you.  And her success in that realm was a tribute to her tenacious perseverance, hard work and grit.

We lost her in 1994 at the age of 89.  She lived a remarkable life and most certainly took excellent care of all those she loved.  Her indominatabile influence remains strong and indelible.

The undated photo shows Mary Young Stahley sometime during the 1920s in Philadelphia.  In her smile, I see reflections of my father, several great aunts, cousins and each of my four sisters.






  1. An absolutely wonderful tribute for your grandmother! I can see how proud you are of her.

  2. She sounds like quite a woman and you did a lovely tribute to her.

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