Mary O'Geary Began Her Service with the Tampa Bay Chapter on April 4, 1971
April is National Volunteer Month, and the Red Cross started the month-long recognition with a surprise car parade in honor of Pinellas County volunteer, Mary O’Geary, who marked her 50th anniversary of Red Cross service.
On April 5, a small group of Red Cross staff gathered in the front yard of Mary’s Largo home to present her with an award and pin for her 50 years of service. She had no idea that a few minutes later, 24 vehicles with honking horns and cheering passengers would arrive to celebrate her milestone.
Ever the humble one, her reaction was pure shock and she was speechless for a few minutes, until she saw the people inside the cars – her dearest Red Cross friends from across Central Florida that she hadn’t seen (in-person) in over a year due to the pandemic, along with a bonus of local public safety organizations leading the way.
It was an amazing day to celebrate an amazing person! By all accounts, Mary exemplifies what it truly means to be a Red Crosser.
“It all goes back to something my dad used to say to us all the time: ‘Service is the rent you pay for the space you occupy,’” Mary says. “That was how he instilled the idea of community service in all of us” -- that's Mary and her eight siblings.
A half century ago, Mary’s Red Cross story started when her (then) young daughter’s Girl Scout troop wanted to take a camping trip -- but none of the adults knew first aid. “I took the Red Cross class and was invited to become an instructor, and it just kept going from there,” Mary says.
On April 4, 1971, Mary began her service with the Tampa Bay Chapter as a volunteer safety services instructor (water safety, first aid). She became paid staff in 1973 and was appointed Director of Youth Services where she grew many youth programs. She retired as an employee in 1989 after 16 years, and quickly returned as a volunteer with a focus on planning, organizing and developing programs to help people recover after disasters. Currently she is recovery planning and training coordinator for the region.
Through the years, there were many memorable moments – and a lot of assignments to disaster relief operations – 59 and counting. Some of the disaster responses that left a lasting impression were the Florida “no name” storm (1993), the Washington state earthquake (2001), 9/11 (2001) and hurricane season of 2005 which included Katrina, Rita and Wilma.
Numerous awards and citations have come to Mary for her compassionate service and extraordinary achievements, including the Clara Barton Award for Meritorious Volunteer Leadership in 2015 -- the highest honor the Red Cross bestows upon its volunteers.
When asked if she’d do it all again, Mary replies, “in a heartbeat.” She plans to continue as long as she can, and for that, her Red Cross family is so very grateful.
The work of the Red Cross is make possible because of people like Mary who give of their time, talents and compassion to fulfill our humanitarian mission. A great variety of roles are available to match a wide range of interests and time commitment. Please contact our local recruitment specialists at CentralFloridaVolunteer@redcross.org to find out what is available in Central Florida, or look for opportunities online at redcross.org/volunteer.
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