Mirror co-worker made glorious first impressions – and lasting ones

Mary Louise Goss (left) with former Mirror editor Andy Hobbs (second from left) and friends during an event in Federal Way. Goss died of lung cancer on Feb. 9. - File photo
Mary Louise Goss (left) with former Mirror editor Andy Hobbs (second from left) and friends during an event in Federal Way. Goss died of lung cancer on Feb. 9.
— image credit: File photo

The death of a person you know is something you are never prepared for. It doesn’t matter if it comes about because of a split-second auto accident or a long battle with a disease.

When death happens, the finality is devastating and shocking. It always leaves an empty space in its wake.

Longtime Federal Way Mirror employee Mary Lou Goss lost her battle with cancer Sunday after a relatively short fight with the devastating disease lung cancer.

If you ever came into The Mirror’s office or called the newspaper, you most likely talked to Mary Lou. The 57-year-old was a jack-of-all-trades at The Mirror. She basically did everything but write stories.

Mary Lou started out selling advertising for the newspaper, then moved to the front desk where she greeted people and answered phone calls. She then went back to selling ads before ending her seven-year career last month, working the front desk and “dummying” ads for the newspaper.

She was the first face everybody saw, including me, when they walked in the front door at the newspaper. The Mirror couldn’t have been represented better than Mary Lou. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and Mary Lou made a glorious one.

I’m going to let you in on a little insider information - you can become very jaded in the newspaper business. It just kind of comes with the territory.

As a reporter, the only time you usually hear from the public is if you make a mistake. It’s very rare that you get an email, out of the blue, from someone giving you praise for something you did. And working the phone and counter at the front desk of a newspaper is even worse. Mary Lou was the buffer and did an amazing job of calming everybody before they got to me.

Tough is a word that is overused in today’s world. But Mary Lou was one of the toughest people that I’ve ever been around, athletes included. Despite being in obvious and constant pain, Mary Lou would show up every day for work without an excuse. I never heard her complain to any of the upset customers who would storm through the door with some type of complaint.

I often wondered why she never just said, “I’m very sorry that you got your free copy of The Mirror delivered to your driveway instead of your front porch, but I’m dying of cancer. Why don’t you just walk the extra 10 feet, bend over and pick up your newspaper and stop complaining?”

But she never did. Mary Lou would just put on a strong face and help everyone to the best of her abilities.

To illustrate her toughest, she had chemotherapy on Friday mornings, and it would have been very easy for her to take the entire day off. But she didn’t. She would come into the office after her painful treatments to make sure that things at The Mirror ran smoothly.

She told me that coming into the office gave her something to look forward to each day. If she had to sit home thinking about the cancer, she would have been gone a lot sooner. You get to know people in a different way when working with them. It’s really an odd co-existence, for me especially.

There’s a reason why I’m a writer. Small talk isn’t my strong point. People at The Mirror can vouch for me on that. The noise-canceling earphones are the best thing ever invented, in my mind. If the ladies in the office get a little too loud, my earphones go on and sometimes don’t come off until I walk out the door at 5 p.m.

But there was something about Mary Lou. It was very easy to strike up a conversation with her, and you knew that she would put some thought in the answers she would give you. She also wasn’t afraid to tell you her true feelings on a subject, no matter the implications. In short, she wasn’t just a so-called “yes man.”

I’ve always been of the mindset that work is work. I just do the best that I can for the eight hours a day I’m under the employment of The Mirror. I’ve already got plenty of friends, and my wife and kids are the love of my life.

But Mary Lou’s passing had me sitting at my desk Monday morning contemplating stuff that’s really important to me, and The Mirror has been a huge part of my life for the past decade.

Monday through Friday, I’m actually with the nine people who work inside the office at the intersection of 320th Street and First Avenue more than I’m with my wife and kids. And that’s not an exaggeration. You’d better be able to tolerate the people you work with, because 40 hours a week adds up to a lot of time together.

My kids can start working my last nerve after 15 minutes. There are the rare times that I even need to get away from my wife for a little bit. I guarantee she would say the same thing about me.

Why do you think the “man cave” was invented? Sometimes you just have to signal for a timeout and regroup. But there’s no “Man Cave” inside the Federal Way Mirror, and Mary Lou always made everybody feel welcome - whether it was the sports editor or a stranger off the street with a box full of wet newspapers that they didn’t want delivered to their house.

Co-workers can form a community. Some are like an extended family. Mary Lou has been around for a lot of the ups and downs of my life. In the past eight years, she saw me get married. She watched my kids grow up, and she saw me lose some of my hair and gain some weight. It’s like anything with life. You get so comfortable in your routine that you never step back and truly examine what’s going on all around you. Wake up, shower, eat breakfast, get the kids off to school, drive to work, work, drive home, eat dinner, take and pick up kids from practice, watch TV and then go to bed.

Federal Way, and especially everybody at The Mirror, will miss you, Mary Lou.

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