Peggy McAleese died a few days before Christmas last year. She was 92.
She was a contemporary of my parents. She and her family lived two doors down from our home on Spain Street near Sebastiani Winery when I was in grade school. Her sons, Rick, Bob and Tom, and my brother Jim, and I, were playmates.
Peg was a nurse but always seemed to be leading some kind of food or charity drive. By example and sheer dedication and determination, she pulled many of her generation along with her.
She, along with Jerry Casson and other Sonoma angels, started the Christmas food basket program even before FISH (Friends in Sonoma Helping) was founded. When I was finally old enough to drive, Peg drafted me and several of my friends to help with that program during our Christmas vacations from high school and college.
Our primary job was to deliver the baskets to families in the Valley who, if it were not for Peg and Jerry, would have gone hungry at those times. I saw first hand the face of poverty in our Valley, and also the gratitude of those folks (and children) to whom we delivered the baskets. Peg kept us working right into the later afternoon of Christmas Eve. She never rested until the last basket was delivered.
She was a forceful and determined advocate for the poor here, and never stopped volunteering to help them.
She, along with Jerry Casson, Adele Harrison, Evelyn Berger and others, saw that the needs of the poor in Sonoma Valley were constantly met, not just at Christmas time. They founded FISH for that reason.
As determined as she was to help those less fortunate, Peg was also determined to do her good deeds quietly, without recognition. Although in that regard, she was not as successful as she might have hoped, because in 1998 the City of Sonoma honored her as the city’s Alcaldessa – a title she accepted gracefully, albeit modestly.
Still, many local residents not directly involved with the Christmas Basket effort of FISH, didn’t know of her and the good works she performed.
Peg was the steady, reliable worker. The kind of person our community could always depend on to help those in need. She was truly a Christmas angel all year long.
Sonoma Valley is a better place because Peg McAleese was with us for so many decades.