PRINCETON — New York Times best-selling author Dr. Leo Buscaglia said, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring — all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
In that one statement alone, Buscaglia could have been describing the late Princeton resident Rita Maloney. Maloney died Friday at the age of 66.
Maloney had a long career of working with the public. She retired as administrator of the Department of Human Services where she worked for 36 years. At the time of her death, she was still employed by the Zearing Child Enrichment Center in Princeton. Between both of those positions, those who knew Maloney said she helped countless people in just as many ways.
Irene Spaulding of Princeton hired Maloney as a case worker at what was then referred to as the Department of Public Aid (now Human Services). Spaulding was the administrator at the time, and she vividly remembers the interview with Maloney.
“She called to see if she could transfer to my office. She was a case worker in another county ... She walked in that door with that big smile. I interviewed her, and we had the best time. In fact, I thought she might be too smart for me. Hiring her was the best choice I ever made,” Spaulding said, adding years down the road when it was time for her to retire, she recommended Maloney become the new administrator.
“She was always for the underdog,” Spaulding said of Maloney’s work at the state department. “She was a compassionate worker; everybody liked her. She was so understanding.”
Spaulding and Maloney became lifelong friends. Even after they had both left the department, they remained close. Spaulding said Maloney was very good to her, checking on her and frequently calling her to see if she needed anything.
Cynthia Tracy of Princeton was friends with Maloney for more than 30 years, after they met at a holiday party of the Bureau County Bar Association.
“Rita was always my special friend that was always there for me,” Tracy said through tears. “We always talked a lot. She would come out to my house, and we’d sit at my kitchen table for hours, talking about our children and husbands ... She was always doing for others. She was always there for everyone. She was more than compassionate. She just didn’t rest; she was always overbooked, whether it was a fish fry, volunteering ..., or cooking at the homeless shelter. We planned to grow older together. I will just really miss her.”
Alyssa Zell of Walnut became acquainted with Maloney when they both worked at Zearing Child Enrichment Center. The two worked together there for more than five years.
“Rita was a person that truly was a blessing from above. She was a friend, a mother, a grandmother, a comedian, a giver, and all around the most amazing person I have ever met. I am so honored to have got to meet her and grow close to her,” Zell said. “Whenever I needed something, she was always there whether it was a shoulder to cry on or a great laugh. She gave the best advice; she kept your secrets; and more importantly she pushed me to become the best. She was one of my biggest cheerleaders in making me the person I am today.
“She was not only an amazing person to me, but I watched her be such an amazing person to everyone she met! She was a true inspiration. She adored her family more than anything — especially (her granddaughter) Alexis. No words, can really sum up how much joy she really was or how much she will be missed,” Zell said.
Maloney’s only grandchild — 18-year-old Alexis Maloney of Wyanet — called her grandmother her best friend. She described her as “selfless, compassionate” — a woman who urged her to be independent and strong and whose love was unconditional.
“It never mattered what I did or what she thought of it, Nana never made me feel like less than the most important person on Earth ... She was always there to comfort, to listen and to help. She lived such a simple life, and it didn’t take anything besides family to make her happy,” she said.
“Money can be squandered and property ruined, but what we inherited from her can not be damaged, destroyed or lost,” she continued. “It is permanent, and it keeps her from becoming just a wonderful memory. It allows her in so many ways to remain just as alive as always — alive through us.
“There have been and will be times in our lives when situations arise where we’ll want so much to talk to her, be with her or ask her just what we should do,” she said. “But when those times come, we will be the strong girls she raised us to be and lean on each other like we could lean on her, and maybe then, she won’t seem so far away.”
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