Mary Valentine "Val" Callahan, passed away on July 1, at the age of 74. She was born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts to parents Frank Callahan and Mary Valentine (Crowley) Callahan. Val spent years in Walden and Washingtonville, New York, after which she'd returned to Massachusetts, living in Worcester and Boston. Val graduated from Bancroft School in Worcester and earned a BS in early childhood education from Wheelock College, followed by a master's in political science and government from University of Texas at Arlington.
Val devoted her career to education, working first as a teacher, then spending 20 years as an assistant principal in the Washingtonville School District's Round Hill and Taft elementary schools. Val treasured her role as an educator, conscious that even the youngest students could be the world's future leaders. She elevated students' vocabularies beyond grade level. She tracked, inquired and admired wiggly teeth the school over, and she built warm relationships with rebellious students. Among her life's greatest achievements, Val's creativity and determination enabled her to teach a teenaged student with nonverbal autism how to read.
Val lived and breathed civic engagement. She joined and had remained active in Rotary International since 1992, serving in roles including club president, foundation chair, assistant governor and district governor. She was active in Boston's Trinity Church, where she found comfort and friendships through her Bible study club and making sandwiches for Boston Warm. From home, Val joined 'Postcards for the Resistance,' sending hand-written notes urging people across the country to become habitual voters. Throughout the years, Val opened her own doors to individuals and families in need, including a 16-month-old girl and her father, who'd traveled from Honduras so the baby could receive life-saving surgery at Boston Children's Hospital for a congenital heart defect. In 2015, she received an "Agent of Change" award from the Rotary Club.
Val was made for the stage. Her uninhibited confidence, animated storytelling, where she teased magnificence from the mundane, and her operatic laugh were larger than life. She once ripped an emergency brake clean out of a car, delighting for decades at the feat of strength. One December evening in Manhattan, Val remarked how Grand Central Station's acoustics "were like a big old bathroom," and she belted out seven Christmas Carols from the balcony. Her favorite songs, played on repeat at high volume, ruined multiple sets of speakers. Val could inject shock value into simple garden maintenance -- "Every time I get a divorce, I trim the shrubs. Clean out the dead wood!" As a grade-school student, she urged inclusivity; while serving as class president, she insisted on a "clique-less class." Val could spot a silver lining anywhere. Throughout the three and a half years she was treated for stage four lung cancer at Dana Farber, Val often said she felt grateful for her diagnosis, because it exposed her to the organization and people behind awe-inspiring advancements in the fight against cancer.
Val is survived by her husband, Mohamed Elhanash, her two children, Mark (Sandra) O'Connor and Valentine (Mark) Oldham, and granddaughter, Valentine "VV" Oldham. She also leaves her siblings, Frank Callahan, Sarah Lenis, Laura Callahan and Luisa Heffernan. Val was predeceased by her parents, as well as a sister, Sarah Louise, who died in 1953.
A 'Celebration of Life' service for Val Callahan will be held on Saturday, August 26 at 10:00am at Boston's Trinity Church (206 Clarendon Street). In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in Val's memory to her most treasured club and cause, The Rotary Club via Rotary.org/donate.