Colleen Mary McGuire walked into the local office of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to begin working there as a teenager.
She remained for the next 42 years, becoming the efficient, dedicated head of the Allegheny District chapter. Her leadership helped it grow immensely in the ability to fund research and programs on behalf of those with the disease.
Ms. McGuire died of breast cancer Sunday at the Sheraden home of her sister, Diane L. Stefurak. She was 62.
She was just 18 when she started as a bookkeeper for the nonprofit advocacy group, which works on behalf of an estimated 7,500 people with the neurological disorder in the chapter's 26-county territory. She rose to become special events coordinator and assistant executive director.
And when her boss left the agency in 1987, the chapter's board of directors had no doubt whom it wanted to take the helm, according to longtime board member Sam Zacharias.
"Someone from the national office called down and said, 'We're coming down with our human resources people and will be conducting a search for the next executive director,' which is normal procedure," Mr. Zacharias said. "The chairman at the time ... told them to save their airfare, that we already have the next executive director."
And so Ms. McGuire spent the next 24 years in the chapter's top staff position -- which was later retitled as president -- until her illness forced her to step down in 2011.
In her various roles, she was instrumental in launching the chapter's local walk-a-thon, bike-a-thon and read-a-thon fundraisers, an Ugly Bartender Contest, a Steelers' wives fashion show and more. She oversaw the chapter's financial growth, from raising about $500,000 a year to $3.5 million today, said Anne Mageras, the current president.
"She didn't leave anything to chance" while working nights and weekends beyond regular workdays, Ms. Mageras said. "Everything was well-planned and well-orchestrated. ... She had endless energy."
As president, Ms. McGuire oversaw a staff of 19 and a large increase over the years in the amount of money the agency spent on behalf of those with the disease to get them durable medical equipment, air conditioners, ramps, respite care, and other goods and services. About $800,000 is spent on programs of the Allegheny District chapter now, compared to $200,000 two decades ago.
Her colleagues knew of no personal experience Ms. McGuire had with anyone with multiple sclerosis before starting work there, but they said her passion for helping others shone through.
Board member Nancy Weiland of Highland Park, who has multiple sclerosis, met Ms. McGuire by chance in a Downtown department store right after being diagnosed with the disease. Ms. McGuire promptly offered help, in a concerned and comforting way, and sent her information to let her know what assistance was available.
"She made it really easy for me, without pushing the subject on me," Ms. Weiland recalled. "She was never one to make a big deal about being the president herself or anything."
When Ms. McGuire retired two years ago, the chapter's other leaders noted she had been to countless weddings and funerals of those with MS, along with their children's baptisms and bar mitzvahs.
While her sister was her only immediate family member surviving, Ms. McGuire was known to others for an extremely close devotion to her nephew, nieces and great-nieces.
A Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. today in St. James Parish, 200 Walnut St., Sewickley.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Hillman Cancer Center, 5150 Centre Ave., Pittsburgh PA 15232.
Gary Rotstein: email@example.com or 412-263-1255.