In Memoriam - July 2020

In Memoriam - July 2020

Gleason challenged mental health stereotypes

Minnesota native Mary Pat Gleason was a prolific film and television actress, who worked to challenge mental health stereotypes. Gleason died in June after a battle with cancer. She was 70 and lived in California. 

Mary Pat Gleason portrait
Mary Pat Gleason

“Stopping Traffic” was Gleason’s one-woman stage show about her personal experiences living with bipolar disorder. It was seen as a change agent in how the entertainment industry deals with mental health issues. The film based on the show is used as a teaching aid for the Mayo Clinic’s mental health programs. 

Gleason’s advocacy also led to changes in mental health policies endorsed by various entertainment unions. 

She was born in Lake City and grew up in St. Paul. She attended Catholic schools, St. Mark’s grade school and the all-girls’ high school St. Joseph’s. 

She had more than 170 roles to her credit, including the CBS series “Mom” and a 1986 writing Emmy Award for “Guiding Light,” the daytime drama in which she also starred. Other TV roles included “Friends,” “Will & Grace,” “How to Get Away With Murder,” “Sex in the City,” “The Blacklist,” “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life,” “NCIS: Los Angeles” and “The Middleman.” 

Many people remember Gleason as the kindly waitress Eleanor in the 2004 cult classic movie “A Cinderella Story.” 

Gleason was in remission from cancer, but became ill again several months ago.


Kennedy Smith funded Very Special Arts 

Jean Kennedy Smith, the last surviving sibling of President John F. Kennedy and who as a U.S. ambassador played a key role in the peace process in Northern Ireland, died in June. She was 92 and lived in Manhattan. 

Jean Kennedy Smith portrait
Jean Kennedy Smith
Photo by Todd Plitt

In disability community circles, Kennedy Smith is best remembered for her founding of Very Special Arts in 1974. The organization is now known as VSA. An affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, VSA has a mission “to provide people of all ages living with disabilities the opportunity to learn through, participate in and enjoy the arts.” 

Kennedy Smith’s sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, was the founder of Special Olympics. Their sister rosemary had developmental disabilities. VSA was seen as the arts counterpart to Special Olympics. 

VSA has had chapters all over the world. Minnesota’s VSA organization closed last year in the wake of declining operating support. 

Smith and writer George Plimpton worked with VSA to co-author the book Chronicles of Courage: Very Special Artists in 1993. In 2011, President Barack Obama presented Smith with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her advocacy work. 

Smith was the eighth of nine children born to Joseph and Rose Kennedy.


McEnroe was investigative reporter 

Investigative journalist Paul McEnroe was a dedicated reporter and was relentless when a story needed to be told. McEnroe died in June after a long fight with cancer. He was 69 and lived in Stillwater. 

Some of McEnroe’s work for the Star Tribune focused on disabilities, including his series “Voiceless and Vulnerable.” That series focused on mistreatment of people with disabilities. 

Paul McEnroe portrait
Paul McEnroe

His work revealed how the state’s public mental health system failed psychiatric patients and how Minnesota failed to protect people with developmental disabilities. 

Anyone who has seen the 2013 Access Press documentary, The Real Story, has seen McEnroe speak about his work. The documentary focused on disability and media perceptions. 

He had a personal interest in disability. The son of a CIA officer, McEnroe grew up seven miles from the Washington Monument in northern Virginia. A Star Tribune article described how his family was involved in the care of his siblings, David and Peter. He wrote an essay in 1987 about the chromosome abnormality that left his brothers with intellectual disabilities. He became his brothers’ legal guardian, a role now taken on by his wife, Louisa D’Altilia. 

McEnroe was a staunch advocate for social justice and received the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Grand Prize for Reporting on the Disadvantaged, among many other awards. 

He worked at the Star Tribune for 35 years and ended his career as the investigative executive producer at KSTP-TV. 

McEnroe is survived by his wife, his brothers, a son and a daughter, and a stepson. Memorials are preferred to Memorial Sloan Kettering Development Office at 646-227-3549, to donate in memory of Paul McEnroe for the research of Dr. T. Jonathan Yang in leptomeningeal cancer.