Cast the First Stone

Every morning during my sophomore year I would meander into work in the office of Student Life at 8:30 a.m. and attempt to make a pot of coffee.

Sometimes the final product would be drinkable, and other times it would induce coughing, gagging, and violent spasms from the rest of the office.

On one cold winter morning I made a particularly unpleasant pot, forcing Marilyn Lofaso, the secretary for Dean Jose Rodriguez, to dump the entire percolated disaster.

“Don’t worry about it honey,” I remember her saying with a smile. “Run to the store for me and get a half-gallon of milk? If there’s any money left over go buy some breakfast for yourself.”

Marilyn, who was in her early 60s, handed me a $20 bill, and even though I argued that it was too much money for milk, she would not hear any of it.

“The price of milk is going up these days,” she said. “You might not even have any money left for breakfast.”

That was the type of woman Marilyn was, selfless, giving, loving and quick-witted. She was the type of person that adds love to your life and life to your day.

Though always a hard-worker, Marilyn spent a good amount of time telling jokes and laughing in her own infectious style, sprinkled with the occasional snort.

Her young grandchildren were undoubtedly her favorite topic of conversation, as she had no greater pleasure than recounting the cute stories she collected after babysitting them.

She was a happy woman and a good woman.

In early July 2004, Marilyn was diagnosed with stomach cancer and suddenly all the vivacity I had seen over the course of two years faltered.

Her job, one that she had held for well over a decade, was appropriately put on hold as she focused on her treatment, and on spending more time with her strong and loving family.

Initially, there seemed to be a good chance that Marilyn could overcome the disease. However, as the months passed not even this woman, so full of life, could stop it from taking her away.

On Jan. 31, 2005, Marilyn’s suffering ended and everyone’s mourning began.

The six months she lived with cancer were nothing short of brutal, as her sickness tore into her and all who loved her, including her family at St. John’s, a long list of co-workers, friends and acquaintances.

But through her illness, and especially after she died, we were often reminded of how much we loved her and why, in fact, we did.

I’ve thought about Marilyn often these days, as I and the rest of the St. John’s community mourn several more recent losses. Over the past two weeks, three people who gave so much to St. John’s have been taken from us:

John Holohan, 31, was a pep band director and a man loved and admired by all he met. When asked about him, every single person I interviewed for a news article choked back tears and then suddenly stopped, smiled and remembered the tremendous impact that this funny, talented man had on them.

Captain Edward Palmer, 37, was the commander of the St. John’s ROTC program and a man who brought inspiration and received respect merely because of the way he conducted himself with those around him.

Dr. Erika Wick, who was at the University for close to 40 years, was a valued authority in the psychology department and in teaching undergraduate seminars and graduate level courses, distinguished herself among her students.

Each one left their mark on an innumerable amount of people at St. John’s University.

It seems that many of us sometimes lose track of the simple fact that this university is home to an incredible population that spends the majority of their waking hours on campus.

Every editor at The TORCH spends more hours in the University Center than they do in their homes. The same is true for each and every dedicated person in organizations, offices, and clubs across campus.

This place where we work, study, labor, and laugh, is where relationships are forged and memories are made. When we lose people like Marilyn Lofaso, John Holohan, Edward Palmer, and Erika Wick, people that have impacted our growth as men and women, the world as we know it becomes that much smaller √¢?” and things can never really be the same again.

So it should open our eyes and remind us that despite the stress, hard work and painful mourning we experience, there is much to appreciate in the moments we spend together.

Members of the pep band have a bevy of laughs and memories at which they can look back on and smile.

Members of the ROTC program have a role model and an officer in which they can forever emulate.

Students who have taken Dr. Wick have lessons, both literally and figuratively, that will make them better in their field and in their life.

Every once in a while I remember the stories that Marilyn would tell about her grandchildren, the games that they played and the funny things that they said.

I remember the unconditional love that she had for them and the joy and pride she exhibited while reciting the simplest of things they had accomplished.

In many ways Marilyn redefined happiness for me.

Whether she knew it or not, she showed me the right way to love and to live. Those lessons are now and forever branded into my mind and into my heart.