In Memory of MaryJo Paxton (1935-2017), Former NAMI SLO CO President

From Maria Burrows, Mary Jo's sister-in-law:

Mary Jo Paxton was born on June 12th 1935 as the third child and second daughter of William Joe Barrows and Mary Moore Barrows.

The couple were living in Nome, Alaska where her father had built and operated an Airline he later sold to Pan American Airlines during the age of Clipper Ship aviation.

Her mother suffered from Rickets in childhood with pelvic deformity that necessitated Cesarean Section for all her births, so she returned to the States because Alaska had no obstetricians. B

Mary Jo grew up in the Pacific Northwest, moving frequently when her parents divorced.  She graduated from high school in Ashland, Oregon and relocated to San Francisco to pursue a short modeling career followed by secretarial training.  She married young, a handsome produce manager with an acclaimed singing voice.  Unfortunately, his father squelched any participation in musical competition.

MaryJo and Bill moved first to Grands Pass, Oregon and later to California for a few years, but both sons, Wm. Jo and Mark were born and raised in Oregon.  Sadly both boys were schizophrenic and died at 49 and 50 years of age.  MaryJo’s husband had his first major heart attack in his thirties and died at 57.

Widowed in midlife and saddled with large medical bills, (Bill did not qualify for medical insurance) Mary Jo worked diligently as a real estate broker to pay off these debts and care for her mother with advanced Parkinsons’ disease until Mom’s death at 93.

Throughout her life she had strong faith and a wonderful sense of humor.  She moved to be near her only brother, Frank and I in 1997.  We lost Frank in 2004 and became closer after I returned to live in San Luis Obispo, having spent eleven years sharing my only sister’s home in Goleta.

MaryJo had many productive years as an active NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) Counselor and was an avid dog lover of Giant Schnauzers.  Initially she had a Champion dog Max who won many ribbons in dog shows throughout the States.  Later in life she rescued that breed.

In 2013 I moved back to San Luis Obispo into the Villages Retirement Community and we spent each Thursday together at  325 Tiger Tail Drive.  She was proud of the renovations and landscaping that set her house apart.  She  had cleared her front yard overgrown with dense Juniper and planted a Magnolia tree.  In the back she had a Navel orange tree, a Bacon avocado and Concord grapes brought from her Portland home.

She was in good health until her early seventies.  She made a good recovery from knee replacement surgery but when she had extensive spinal fusion to avoid paralysis she suffered not only from severe allergies (life long) but required treatment for temporal arteritis and disabling collagenous colitis with years of Prednisone therapy.  This wonder drug has a major side effect, depleting bones of calcium and causing serious osteoporosis.  A subsequent fall led to wrist and hand fractures and there were multiple hospitalizations for heart disease and pneumonia.

I am her witness that she tried to quit smoking many times, but did not succeed.  For several years we searched for subsidized studio housing as she was becoming too weak to manage her household. She was hospitalized several times with pneumonia and greatly appreciated the home health services provided by Medicare.  Ultimately, she was granted her wish: to die before I did.  

On September 18th we found her snuggled in her own bed without any sign of trouble.  She had passed away in her sleep.