The Next Page: Irish dream, Haitian school

When Anne Mullaney died, her friend, Ray Werner, and husband, Maurice B. Cohill Jr., were among those who completed her charitable mission


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Her heart was shaped like a claddagh.

Her smile was always 10 feet in front of her. Her ready embrace wrapped itself around Pittsburgh's Irish community -- and around all of her friends, who were anyone she met, anyone she helped and anyone who stepped into her pub, the Harp & Fiddle in the Strip District, including those few who stepped on her toes.

Anne Mullaney didn't have one mean chromosome, and she was full of forgiveness. David Regan, co-owner of the pub, says all who knew and loved Anne are proud to say we were one of her 10,000 best friends.

When Anne died in April 2011, she had a dream that refused to go with her: to build schools in Haiti for the poorest of the poor, perhaps the neediest children in the Western Hemisphere. She once said that Haiti had to be the unluckiest country in the world -- hurricanes, chaotic government, poverty and, on top of that, a horrendous earthquake, exactly four years ago today.

Anne had put her dream on the fast track because she knew her days were numbered, though her smile never gave that away.

After some due diligence (she was also a highly regarded attorney), Anne joined the board of Partners in Progress, a Westmoreland County-based nonprofit that supports Haiti. Then she formed a special fundraising committee and came out of the gate like an Irish mare running for the roses.

In her prime at 54, she was blindsided by a brain tumor. Unbelievably, on the day of her unforgettable wake, we raised enough money to begin building the school's foundation. So even at her end, Anne was just beginning.

All that was left for the rest of us to do was spread the word. No surprise, people responded, as the Irish say, like true friends who come in when the rest of the world goes out. Within a year, Anne's Friends for Haiti raised enough money to build one of the new buildings for the elementary school.

Now, it's time for a toast. On Saturday, we'll try to raise the last $20,000 needed to bring the $237,000 project to a close. Join us at 6 p.m. at the Harp & Fiddle for what we're calling "The Last Hurrah." Tickets for the event -- with an open bar, buffet and live music -- are $100 each.

The new school, replacing an open-air structure made of poles and corrugated metal, will consist of three buildings. The efforts of Anne and her friends generated enough money to complete the first building and construct the second. Both already are in use. The goal of Saturday's fundraiser is to generate the rest of the money needed to build the third building this year.

Next month, several of us are going to Deslandes, about 90 miles northeast of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, for the school's dedication in honor of Anne. We'll be led by Richard Gosser, executive director of Partners in Progress, and accompanied by board members Kathleen Mullaney, Anne's sister, and John Kearney, Anne's nephew.

In the years to come, we're sure there will be graduates named Anne, in honor of their patron.


For reservations to The Last Hurrah, call 412-642-6622. Donations also may be made to Partners in Progress, 329 N. Fairfield St., Ligonier, PA 15658. Ray Werner (ray_werner@yahoo.com) is a marketing professional and writer from Point Breeze. Senior U.S. District Judge Maurice B. Cohill Jr. (Judge_Cohill@pawd.uscourts.gov) lives in the Strip District.

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