Mimi Soileau passed away on Aug. 26, from complications of kidney and heart failure. The county, her family and friends are missing this awe-inspiring woman who loved life and never wasted a minute of it. I first met Mimi at her home on a beautiful spring day in 2002. She gave me the grand tour. No, it was not the house; her passion was what lived on her 5 acres of land. Standing on her back deck, I was greeted by Domino, her friendly Dalmatian. Mimi proudly shared that Domino had completed his agility trials for an upcoming contest at the Conyers Kennel Club where Mimi volunteered.
In her yard, I was guided past a fish pond, rich in foliage and giant Koi. Leaning her tall, willowy frame over the edge, she expertly pointed out the different varieties of plants. I had difficulty keeping up with her as she ran up some nearby rock-hewn steps. We pushed our way through massive blueberry bushes, revealing a memorial: A bronze statue of three young men in fishermen’s coveralls sat atop white marble, displaying a plaque etched with somber words: “Dave, Dan, & Pete, lost at sea September 1993.” Mimi was a loving mother of eight; losing three sons under tragic circumstances was unfathomable. Tears welled up as she recalled that her three sons’ bodies were never found after their ship went down in the stormy Bering Sea. We held hands as we prayed for her boys.
I looked up, suddenly feeling that we were being watched. Three sets of eyes stared at us from behind the fence that separated the yard from the pasture. Llamas! I had never before seen one this close, but Mimi reassured me. “Just watch out for their spit.” She grabbed a bucket of feed as we headed over to her llamas: Curly, Gladiator and a pregnant Essie. They seemed more interested in their turn at the bucket than they were in me, so I petted these tall wooly creatures as Mimi shared how she had acquired them. Curly often went with her to children’s fairs, she told me. Mimi thoroughly enjoyed sharing the natural world with young minds.
We headed to Mimi’s vegetable garden, an enclosed 2-foot-tall space filled with young tomato plants, green beans, and a variety of other vegetables. She offered to save some for me when they ripened. Her garden, she said, was successful due to her using “llama beans” as fertilizer. Beans are a nice word for dung.
The tour ended with the hospitality Mimi never forgot, as we settled down to tea. While making tea using her daughter Mary’s honey from her beekeeping business, she proudly shared tidbits about each of her children: Mary, John, Clare, Pete, Tom, Ann, David and Dan.
I discovered Mimi was a world traveler. As she shared stories and photo albums, I was transported back to the mid-1950s when she and her husband Drew traveled to Alaska together. Drew had passed away seven months before, she said sadly. Smiling, she described their visiting Ireland the previous year. Photos showed her kissing the Blarney stone and standing in front of a monastery ruin.
As our friendship grew over the years, I enjoyed many days of vicarious travels. I especially loved her stories about Venice, the Vatican, Lourdes and the Dead Sea, where she sat in the silty mud-rich water praying for loved ones. I marveled at her visits to China with her son John and his family, where she held baby pandas. Led by Fr. John Kieran, accompanying other members of St Pius X Catholic Church, (of which she was a founding member,) she followed the steps of St. Paul from Athens, Greece, to Corinth.
Travel was but a fragment of her rich, full life. Mimi will be remembered as a wonderful friend and an inspiration to many! She devoted her seemingly endless supply of energy, kindness, and selflessness to diverse projects and ministries that helped others. She loved children, spending time teaching them about plants, animals, and her faith. She loved horses and rode one just weeks before she died. In her memory, the Olympic International Horse Park Memorial Arboretum, which she co-founded in 2005, has planted a yellow tulip poplar. A Memorial Mass at St Pius X on Sept. 12 at 10:30 a.m. will celebrate her life before she is interred in the family plot in St. Louis Cemetery #3, New Orleans, La..