Agnes, M. Heim, "Ginger"
Born January 16, 1935 in Boston, MA. Died May 14, 2023 in Wayne, PA.
Her given name was Agnes but no one called her that except maybe the nuns at St. Mary’s High School in Miami in the 1950s. Everyone knew her only as Ginger, a name Agnes Marie McCarron acquired as a redheaded toddler and never relinquished. It fit her in so many ways. She was funny and sunny and warm and had a smile that made you feel alive and welcome and loved. She died on May 14, but it’s almost impossible to write about her in the past because she was always, unfailingly, present.
Ginger was born in Boston in 1935, the youngest of six children, the granddaughter on both sides of Irish immigrants including a grandfather who stole money to pay for his passage. Her mother died in the hospital following Ginger’s birth and her father wasn’t prepared to take on this added responsibility. Not a great start. Her crib for the first year was a dresser drawer (no, they didn’t close her in it). Ginger’s aunt and uncle, Ann and Jim Craig, and her cousin Billy took her in and loved her from the get-go. When she was 8, they all moved to Miami where she would attend grade school and high school and become the first person in her family to graduate from college when she got her nursing degree from Barry College in 1957.
Following graduation Ginger worked as a public health nurse, traveling across Florida to immunize kids and instruct new mothers on how to care for their children. In 1960 she saw an ad in the newspaper for nurses to work for the State Department. She thought that sounded thrilling and less than a year later, following training in Washington, she was on her way to her first assignment as the only nurse at the new U.S. embassy in Yaounde, Cameroon. She was 25.
In 1964, with the war in Vietnam heating up, Ginger was sent to Saigon and assigned to the U.S. Naval Hospital there. During her first week in Vietnam she went to play tennis and met Matt Heim, a young widower with a two-year-old son (Mark) who worked for Catholic Relief Services. Six weeks after they met, he asked her to marry him. She told him she thought he was crazy, not least because he brought a toddler to live in a war zone. But Matt was persistent and kind and funny and exceptionally handsome and the combination was hard to resist. They married on May 1, 1965. Two weeks ago, on their 58th wedding anniversary, they renewed their vows. He was the love of her life and equal partner in all things. They made each other laugh.
The family soon moved to Morocco where Matt and Ginger’s children Joe, Craig and Kate were born. They lived in Rabat for four years and then moved to Kenya where they lived for five years and their daughter Kristin was born. They then moved to Haiti for a year before moving to the states.
The family settled in Wayne and Ginger soon began working as the health officer for Radnor Township, keeping the local citizenry safe for 25 years by enforcing public health regulations and shutting down restaurants for health violations. Ginger was always serene and reasonable, never swore and rarely raised her voice. But she was not to be trifled with, at home or at work. She was especially a stickler when it came to rules about keeping a clean kitchen and struck fear in the hearts of Radnor restaurateurs whenever she darkened their doorways.
Following her retirement, she volunteered extensively and almost never mentioned it. Talking about herself was something she didn’t do unless you dragged it out of her. For many years she volunteered as a nurse at Community Volunteers in Medicine (www.cvim.org [cvim.org]), an amazing organization in Chester County, Pennsylvania that provides high quality health and dental care to low income individuals and families including many immigrants. She’d be happy if you donated to their efforts.
This brief bio only begins to capture what a great woman Ginger was. She was the best example of how to be a friend, a wife, an aunt, a parent, a grandmother to her 12 adoring grandchildren (Caitlin, Megan, Matthew, Nate, Charlie, Caroline, Henry, Chloe, Sara, Peter August and Rebecca) and a conscious participant in the human story. She was open and giving. She didn’t treat strangers with fear or suspicion. She believed in the best of people and in the possibilities of everyone. She didn’t tolerate rudeness and expressed gratitude for every kindness. More than once she thanked the toaster just for popping. Her Catholic faith guided her always and provided her with succor even if she was sometimes deeply wounded by its actions and its insistence that women could not become priests and lead the Church to a truer and better representation of its followers. If she had had more time, she would have gotten that fixed.
As a mother, she was unmatched. Kind, empathetic, warm and giving, she was the light that guided us to be our best selves. That she died on Mother’s Day feels not sad, but appropriate. Ginger was once asked what she learned from her mother about being a parent. “I just knew that my mom really loved me,” she said. “And I was very important to her. So I probably didn’t consciously try to convey that; it just maybe came more naturally because that’s how it was for me.”
It did come naturally to her. Matt and her children and always knew Ginger loved them. And that they were very important to her. Anyone lucky enough to know her felt the same. We will miss her always.
Survived by her husband Matthew Heim, daughters Kate Campbell (Brian), Kristin Mowry (Clay), and her sons Mark (Paige Carlson-Heim), Joe (Hannah Schardt) and Craig (Jean Miller) and grandchildren Caitlin (Lee Ann), Megan, Matthew, Nate, Charlie, Caroline, Henry, Chloe, Sara, Peter, August, Rebecca. Also survived by her brother-in-law, Rev. Joseph A. Heim, MM.
She was predeceased by her parents Albert and Rosella (Shea) McCarron, her adoptive parents James and Ann McCarron Craig, and six siblings. Funeral will be at St. Katharine of Siena Church, Wayne on Saturday May 20th. Visitation at noon followed by her Funeral Mass at 1pm. Memorial donations may be made to Community Volunteers in Medicine (www.cvim.org [cvim.org])