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Theresa Mary McCourt Scholarship

Bio

Theresa McCourt from Manchester, England, earned a BA in English literature and drama from Birmingham University, England, combined honors, and a MA in English literature from California State University, Sacramento. For several years she worked as an editor-in-chief for the California Bureau of State Audits. She then started her own business, Capital Wordplay, working as a teacher (UC Davis Extension, Cosumnes River College), editor, and freelance journalist, writing articles for national and local magazines and newspapers, including an eight-year run as a biweekly columnist for The Sacramento Bee.

Some of her poetry awards include second place in the 79th Annual Berkeley Poets competition (2005), first place in the Ina Coolbrith Memorial Poetry Contest (2006), first place in the Maggi H. Meyer Memorial Poetry contest (2007), and the Albert and Elaine Borchard Fellowship (2008).

She has been published in The Squaw Valley Review, Peter Parasol, Bill Gainer’s Magnet Project, mamazine.com, Rattlesnake Review, Toyon, Sacramento News and Review, Night and Day, and Poetry Now.

As a four-year member of the Sacramento Poetry center, Theresa and a co-editor produced (among other projects) three reviews---known as the Tule Review---with submissions from all over the USA.

In 2007 and in 2008 she was part of the Artist Residency Institute through the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission and taught at the Women’s Wisdom Project.

In 2009 and 2010 she taught poetry at Galt High School and Elk Grove High School as an adjunct teacher hired through the Artist Residency Institute to instruct and prepare students for the California Poetry Out Loud competition.

poetry-out-loud-2010.jpg

Wharf to Wharf Theresa Marathon Photo

Athletics

Theresa was a gifted athlete. In her early 20’s, after exploring Central America for nearly a year upon graduation from the University of Birmingham, she settled in Eureka, California, where she was introduced to weight training by her first husband, artist Thomas Leaver. After moving to Sacramento, she began running and joined the Buffalo Chips Running Club. She ran all distances and achieved many milestones: from a 5:19 mile time to finishing over 40 marathons, her favorite distance. She won 4 marathons including her dearest, the Humboldt Redwoods. She ran the California International Marathon (CIM) 13 times and was the first Sacramento woman finisher in 1993. Her fastest CIM time, achieved in 1990, was 2:50:10 (10 seconds too slow to qualify for the USA Olympic trials.)

She is quoted on the Sacramento Running Association’s website in a profile about “Women at the CIM: You’ve Come a Long Way Ladies” as saying, “There are so many divergent wonders that occur from the discipline of doing it (running)---and from the enjoyment of doing it!”

She felt that discipline and attentiveness when applied to running, gardening, writing, and poetry lead to DISCOVERY.

Theresa at Mammoth Lakes in 2010

Diagnosis

Theresa was diagnosed with logopenic primary progressive aphasia, a type of frontotemporal degeneration, in 2011. This neurological disease attacks the language center of the brain and affects an individual’s ability to communicate. It is a cruel disease, particularly for an artist, poet, and writer who creates with language. She was able to write well for one to two years after her diagnosis before stopping altogether.

  • Logopenic: difficulty in finding the right words while speaking and hesitation in speech
  • Primary: the first stages in which memory, thought, and recognition begin to fade
  • Progressive: a continued fading of one’s self over time, 2-10 years
  • Aphasia: an inability to articulate or comprehend language

She died on 30 April 2017, one day after her 58th birthday.

Theresa with her longtime running friends

Living a Consequential Life

During her life and after her death, family members and friends from the many circles she moved in---among them runners, poets, moms, and fellow Sacramento State alumni---often noted her desire not only to connect with others but to connect deeply. At her memorial service, her longtime friend Professor Joe Staats spoke eloquently and remembered Theresa as having lived a life that was “consequential.” He had known Theresa for over 25 years training in the Buffalo Chips with her and racing alongside her. He had witnessed, along with fellow CSU Sacramento alumni Susan Howe and Jim Merk, how she offered words of encouragement to friends and strangers. She loved people of all ages and backgrounds. She organized groups to offer feedback and support to other writers, moms, and runners. She was comfortable discussing many subjects, including art, literature, film, music, philosophy, health, and one’s well-being. She did not enjoy small talk but preferred to take “deep dives” into the heart of conversational topics, while at the same time capturing people with her engaging and contagious smile and laughter. Joe presided at her wedding ceremony. Theresa and Joe were kindred spirits. After she bought her first and only house, Joe helped with her garden during a rough patch in his life. They weeded and prepared the soil for planting. At her wedding, Joe would refer to that time in his and her life as an “untangling of possibilities.” Gardening was a comfort and an inspiration for her.

Theresa at her home in 2012

Service

Theresa especially appreciated the “service people” of life. As a waitress in high school at Mt. Carmel School for Girls in Alderley Edge, a kitchen worker in summer at the University of Birmingham, as an Au Pair in Boston, or as an apartment manager in Sacramento, these odd jobs instilled in her the importance of work ethic and a love of the common person. She appreciated the dignity of these people, at the lower ends of society, and their ability to laugh.

Family Photo at Chloe’s Bath on the Stanislaus River

Family Life

She was married to Howard Price (30 August 1997 to 30 April 2017) and had a son, Ian Price (b. 15 April 2001). Theresa loved being a mother, especially having come to it late at age 42. She loved participating in Ian’s life, from swim lessons at the YMCA, to youth baseball and soccer, to camping and hiking trips in the Sierra Nevada, to sharing her love of running, and traveling to Ireland. Theresa loved introducing Ian to the common people in life and sharing her compassion and humility with him for them.

Theresa's Last Poem

Psalm

Give ear to my words

let me not overwhelm

the salt, the sour, the sweet

with the acrid, the caustic.

Grant me the better bitter—

the tang of stringent herbs

that though they bite, do some good:

Let me soak, through and through

in the watery crush of cress,

the dandelion flower & its long root

—may my acerbity come from wormwood,

tumeric, safron, myrrh

so as to cleanse wounds

promote circulation.

Keep me on the path

of favorable interactions

pluck from my heart

the gall and the grievous:

Detoxify my own enraged blood—

Theresa McCourt

Draft: Feb 23, 2012

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“I believe that art, and poetry specifically, fills a basic human need with the power to heal and connect us.”

Theresa at Sacramento Poetry Center, October 2007

Sacramento Poetry Center, October 2007

Theresa’s Favorite Pen, Pilot Precise (Black Ink)

Theresa’s Favorite Pen, Pilot Precise (Black Ink)

Joe Staats marrying Theresa McCourt and Howard Price

Marriage

Joe Staats marrying Theresa McCourt and Howard Price on August 30, 1997 at CSU Sacramento’s Alumni Grove. The ceremony was followed by a 5k run along the American River Parkway and a reception at Alumni Grove.

Theresa's English Department Graduate Student Friends

CSU Sacramento English Department Graduate Student Friends

L to R: Robin Ikegami, Susan Howe, Kathy Leland, Jim Merk

Garden in 2005

Gardening

Theresa created, over a span of 15 years, a lovely cottage garden filled with her favorite flower, the black-eyed Susan, which she called her “happy flower.”

May 2006 near Theresa’s ancestral home in Waterford, Ireland

May 2006 near Theresa’s ancestral home in Waterford, Ireland

Pumpkin Patch, 2004

Pumpkin Patch, 2004

Horsetail Falls near Lake Tahoe, August 2014

Horsetail Falls near Lake Tahoe, August 2014