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Lois Jane Walsh, Central DuPage Hospital nurse and wife of FBI’s Bob Walsh, dies at 66

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Updated: August 3, 2012 6:26AM

For roughly 10 years Lois Jane Walsh suffered a rare illness that took away her ability to walk, write and speak. But it didn’t take away her laugh.

With her mind sharp and sense of humor strong, Mrs. Walsh remained in the center of action and loved to laugh away the nights with family and friends.

“We would have a lot of good laughs,” said Bill Keefe, a family friend. “She was always so positive, just a real pleasure to be around. She was remarkable.”

Mrs. Walsh, a former emergency room nurse at Central DuPage Hospital, died June 21 at her Naperville home from complications related to cerebellar ataxia, a progressive disorder that affects the part of the brain tied to coordination. She was 66.

Prior to her illness, as the wife of Bob Walsh, a former FBI special agent who became a high-ranking official in Chicago and retired as head of the San Francisco office, Mrs. Walsh lived in many places over the years, including Washington, D.C., Milwaukee and California, and was always looking forward to the next adventure.

She loved to travel and would research the history of an area before she arrived.

“If we were ever driving around and saw a historical marker in the road, that such and such happened here, we always had to stop,” her husband said.

Mrs. Walsh and her mom also took many trips together to explore new grounds.

“I always called them the time travelers,” said Keefe, also a former special agent. “They’d find these interesting little towns in Europe, and they’d just pack up and go.”

No matter where she was, Mrs. Walsh almost always had a book in hand. She built a home library out of her collection, organized by the Dewey Decimal System.

“She would read anything,” said one of her daughters, Andrea Grace. “She was very smart. She just loved knowledge, loved learning, loved looking at maps and studying atlases.”

A New York native, Mrs. Walsh was born Sept. 10, 1945, and grew up in Queens. Her father, an Italian-American, ran a Navy ship store in Brooklyn while her mother, also of Italian descent, looked after her and her younger brother.

While a student at Rosary Hill College, Mrs. Walsh met her future husband, who was attending a school about 70 miles away and would hitchhike to see her. The two wed shortly after graduating in 1967.

Mrs. Walsh taught English at a high school in Long Island before her husband joined the Army and they moved to Germany for about two years.

Years later, after Mrs. Walsh had four children, she decided to go back to school and get a nursing degree.

“That was always kind of a passion for her, both medicine and helping people,” Grace said.

Following a move to Naperville in 1982, Mrs. Walsh spent a number of years as a registered nurse at Central DuPage, eventually working her way up to the emergency room.

“You work with a whole array of illnesses and trauma, and sometimes colds and viruses, so you have to be very good. She was an excellent nurse,” said Kryss O’Donnell, a friend and fellow nurse. “Her patients were always her highest priority.”

Roughly 10 years ago Mrs. Walsh fell a few times at work and started to feel like her balance was off. She was diagnosed with cerebellar ataxia, and within two years, she could no longer walk. Slowly she lost more and more of her motor control.

“She was having a hard time writing letters,” Grace said. “Then she couldn’t walk. Then she couldn’t talk on the phone. It was heartbreaking.”

With help from her family, she found ways to communicate, first by pointing and later by blinking or moving her eyebrows. She continued to go through multiple books per week by listening to audio recordings, and she liked to sit in the middle of the family room to watch her grandkids play around her.

“The love in the family and the compassion, you could see it,” said Mary Ann Burns, a minister of care at St. Thomas the Apostle Church who would bring Mrs. Walsh communion and prayers on Sundays. “She was a beautiful person — never bitter, never angry. She was extraordinary.”

In addition to her husband and daughter Andrea, Mrs. Walsh is survived by her sons, Emmett and Matthew; daughter, Nicole; six grandchildren; and her brother.

Services have been held.

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