Quite the woman is honored by a plaque at her favorite restaurant. On the wall of Shanahan’s, near the high-top table where she always sat, is a plaque in tribute to the late Loretta Walsh. It reads, “Loretta O’Mara Walsh 1922-2016 ‘Let’s go to Shanahan’s’ 1990-2016.” 

Her daughter, Tagger O’Brien, explained, “My brother Kevin had it made to honor and memorialize our mom’s many years and wonderful times at Shanahan’s. Tim and Radana and everyone at Shanahan’s were family to her.” 

Walsh was a lifelong River Forest resident but Forest Park was her playground. She had known Tim Shanahan when he was growing up in River Forest, so his restaurant naturally became her headquarters. As soon as she came through the door, David the bartender would have her drink set up. It was vodka, with a splash of soda, on the rocks with two limes. Walsh was serious about the “splash.”

She chose her perch, so she could see who was coming through the front door. Young and old stopped at the table to see her. For dinner, she would order a Reuben or a patty melt. Then she would top off the evening with Irish coffee. Walsh loved her home-away-from-home so much, she would sometimes visit two or three times a week.  

When she wasn’t socializing, Walsh was a serious businesswoman. She joined the family real estate business, P.M. Walsh & Co., in 1965 and was still coming to work every day in her 90s. 

“She always had a contract with her,” O’Brien said. “She said she’d been in every house in Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park — twice.” 

Walsh was a female pioneer in the real estate business and as feisty as they come. She sold residential and commercial and nothing could keep her from making a sale. 

“If the key didn’t work, she would climb through a window,” O’Brien recalled. Her mother sat right behind her at the office at 7636 W. North Avenue. The desk is still heaped with papers and her client book is crammed with names and telephone numbers.

“She was fair, honest and hard-working,” O’Brien said. She was also a fast driver who sometimes got stopped by the Forest Park police on her way to a sale. When she explained the reason for her rush, the officer didn’t give her a ticket. At the office, she was the go-to person for advice, and her suggestions usually made the sale go through. She was proud to work at a family business, which is celebrating its 127th year.

“She was a fantastic woman, very classy,” Tim Shanahan recalled. “She was way ahead of her time, running her own business. She was such a nice person, she was like family.” 

In fact, when Walsh’s son, Kevin, wed Shanahan’s sister, Maggie, the families became related by marriage. 

“They’re a great family,” Shanahan continued. “The only reason we open up on Thanksgiving is to accommodate the Walsh family. For 26 years, they’ve been coming to Shanahan’s after their football game.”

Walsh was born on March 23, 1922 and followed a familiar path in River Forest, attending St. Luke Elementary School, Trinity High School and Rosary College (now Dominican University). She earned a degree in Liberal Arts. After college, she married John Walsh, whose grandfather was P.M. Walsh himself. 

They raised five children and celebrated their 60th Anniversary at — where else? — Shanahan’s. After Mass at St. Luke, 70 guests from all over the country assembled at the restaurant. In fact, Shanahan’s is the site of many family gatherings. Walsh celebrated her 90th birthday at the Drake Hotel but on the way home, she spoke her familiar phrase, “Let’s stop at Shanahan’s.”

For such a refined, accomplished woman, Walsh had a peculiar fascination with the gangster John Dillinger. It stemmed from an incident when she was 10 years old. Her family was parked on North Avenue, when they spotted a suspicious car in front of them. Dillinger and his gang were inside and Walsh had the audacity to walk around the car, causing the occupants to slide down in their seats. Her father got the license plate and reported it to the River Forest Police Department. It turned out to be stolen. Police found it abandoned after Dillinger stole another car. 

Walsh had another celebrity sighting later in life. She walked into La Strada Restaurant (now Angelo O’Leary’s) and spotted Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. They were in town to visit the grave of her third husband, Michael Todd. Walsh was a fan of Forest Park her entire life. She was out on the town every night the week before she died. 

After celebrating Valentine’s Day 2016 at Shanahan’s, she complained the next day of having trouble breathing. Her family took her to Rush Oak Park Hospital, where they fitted her with an oxygen mask. Walsh complained that she “felt like a Blackhawks goalie” and tore off the mask. The Shanahan’s staff came to visit her in the hospital. One of the restaurant’s regulars, Larry Reynolds, brought green flowers to his “best gal.” Walsh scoffed, assuring Reynolds she’d be around for St. Patrick’s Day. 

David the bartender also visited her. Walsh had a special place in her heart for him. Not only did he have her drink ready to go, when it was time to leave, he pulled her car in front and walked her out the door arm-in-arm. “I visited her two days before she died,” David said. “She was in no pain, really happy. She was excited about going back to Shanahan’s. She was a really happy, strong woman, full of energy.”

They all came to see her, including Stella. Kate recalled, “She was a doll. I loved waiting on her.” Radana Shanahan said, “We loved her. She was an icon here. She was more than a customer. She was a friend. She died like a queen, said goodbye to everyone and died with grace.”

Walsh was only ill for a few days and her mind remained sharp to the end. She passed away on February 18, 2016. Now, when customers sit at her high top table, Radana will point out the plaque and tell them they are sitting where a great lady used to sit. 

One can almost hear Walsh holding court and telling David, Stella, or Diane, “Easy on the soda.”  

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.