Mother of 12, grandmother of 34 to receive history degree from URI

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KINGSTON, R.I. –-May 10, 2010–Teresa Mahony, mother of 12, grandmother of 34, could be called a poster child for continuing education. This month, when she receives a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Rhode Island, she will make a little history herself. The Warwick resident will be the oldest undergraduate to earn a degree this year from URI. Next month, Mahony turns 80.

“I was on a 10 year plan. You have to have goals. If you say, for example, someday I will go to Ireland, that’s weak. It goes nowhere. Give yourself a practical window and make a plan,” says Mahony who has visited her ancestral Emerald Isle five or six times.

She wanted to take college courses in high school, but her father, like so many practical fathers in those days, insisted that his daughter study shorthand, bookkeeping, and typing. “Four whole years of it. I was so bored,” she says.

When she was 43 and her youngest child was 3, Mahony earned an associate’s degree from the Community College of Rhode Island and became a registered nurse. She worked part-time for 35 years at Kent County Hospital. URI converted those experiences into credits, which shortened the number of courses she had to take.

A decade ago, she attended an Open House at URI’s Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Continuing Education in Providence and found people welcoming and encouraging. “I’m ready,” she said and signed up to take one class a semester.

“I knew that I would earn a baccalaureate. I was always a history buff. Owen focuses on fiction,” she says of her husband of nearly 58 years.

“Math was my Waterloo,” she says. She saved math for her last course and planned to take it twice, figuring she’d probably flunk it the first time. She wisely sought help at the college’s Academic Center. Bill Briden, adjunct math professor, became her tutor and taught the class.

“I told him I was going to be the biggest challenge of his life,” she says. “He was so kind and told me that if I was willing, I could do it. I asked the kids to keep Dr. Briden in their prayers.”

She studied at the Warwick Public Library, away from phones and interruptions. “You have to have silence. Silence is rejuvenating. That’s where you can get your inner strength. I studied for my nursing degree in the cellar. Set my alarm clock for 5 o’clock in the morning. It was just me, the washing machine, and the dryer. I got the kids up at 6.”

Mahony says May is the biggest month of the year for her and Owen. “Graduations, first Communions, Confirmations, recitals, class plays, and awards nights. It’s huge.”

And then there’s her URI graduation. “I have the good fortune of good health,” she says. “And tremendous support from my husband and children.”

She won’t be the first Mahony to graduate from URI. Sons Tim, Mike, and Tom earned degrees from URI in 1979, 1989, and 1994 respectively.

And she has another connection to URI. Her niece, Lisa Harlow, is a professor of psychology. “ I have never known anyone to match the sparkling spirit of my Aunt Teresa,” says Harlow. “Her zest for life and learning is endless and contagious. She is the keeper of great stories and wisdom in our extended family of more than 180 relatives. No day is too long, nor time too short, for Teresa to stop everything for the opportunity of an engaging visit over a hot cup of tea. She is quite remarkable and has a generous knack for making others feel the same way.”

So what’s the history graduate’s next plan? “I’m giving myself 10 years to learn how to play the piano. The children all took lessons, but I never did,” she says with a laugh.

Pictured above

Teresa Mahony

URI Department of Communications & Marketing photo by Michael Salerno Photography.