Rita Marie McGrath departed this world amid the loving embrace of her family at the University of Wisconsin Hospital on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013.
Rita was born in Madison on March 11, 1949, to Bertrand Thomas and Josephine Jean (Ricobene) Kalhagen. She attended Madison Public Schools and graduated from Madison West High School in 1967. Rita attended the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and hoped to become an elementary school teacher. She left after one year of schooling and returned to Madison. She then began a long career as a public servant for the State of Wisconsin. Rita served her fellow citizens as an employee of the Departments of Revenue and Transportation, and finally, for more than 35 years working in the Unemployment Division of the Department of Workforce Development. She retired from public service on May 3, 2013.
Rita was blessed by the birth of two children, Paul Thomas Torgerson in 1973, and Nicole Marie Torgerson in 1974. She was later twice blessed by the birth of two grandchildren, Charles Thomas Campbell III in 1991 and Sierra Marie Tobias in 2000. Rita also welcomed into her family Justin and Jacob Tobias. She was so pleased and proud to have Druri Tobias as her son-in-law, and she always considered him as her second son.
Rita was married on May 27, 1992, to Kevin McGrath, a second chance for both, and they continued the friendship and love they had known for over 14 years. Rita was diagnosed in her twenties as having a genetic disease known as Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD). This was the beginning of a lifelong effort to confront and conquer this affliction. She lost her kidneys in 1981 and after a failed transplant, was on dialysis until 1989, when a second kidney transplant was successful. Rita maintained her “Gift of Life” until 2009, when she lost her kidney function after a long hospital stay. She then had to endure another four years of kidney dialysis. Throughout this long struggle, Rita raised her children while working full time, so as not only to keep her medical insurance, but also to feel and prove she was a normal person who only wanted to lead an ordinary and happy life. She did not want to be pitied, but instead valued as a contributing member of our society.
During this time she also volunteered and fundraised for the Kidney Foundation and the PKD Foundation. Rita was also a fierce advocate for the rights of people on dialysis. All of the McGrath Family knew she was one of the bravest and most courageous individuals they have known as they witnessed how she faced her pain and suffering with a cheerful dignity and a kindly concern for the well-being of others. As she faced the final hours of her life, her family is so grateful she was lucid and articulate enough to tell her doctors and nurses that she had reached the limit of her endurance and wished to "fall into a comfortable sleep." This last selfless act lifted a burden from her family.
Those who survive Rita include her husband, Kevin; children, Paul Torgerson and Nicole (Druri) Tobias; and grandchildren, Charles Thomas Campbell III, Sierra Tobias, Justin Tobias, and Jacob Tobias. Also, her sister, Elizabeth (Kenneth) Rydwin; brothers-in-law, Todd McGrath and Lance (Emily) McGrath; and sisters-in-law, Susan McGrath, Kerry (Russell) Wilson, Nancy (Steven) Krumrei, and Barb (James) Hixon. A most special mother-in-law, Mary Jean McGrath, also survives Rita, as well as many nieces and nephews.
Those who preceded her in passing include her mother and father; her stepmother, Jean Kalhagen; brother-in-law, Timothy McGrath; and her father-in-law, L.Robert McGrath. Rita also lost her only brother Phillip, who was killed in action in Vietnam in 1970.
Your family can’t wait until we meet you again. We dream of you singing and dancing to the music, free at last from your pain. We love you and will never forget you. You made our hearts smile. Rita’s family also gives a heartfelt thank you to Dr. Juanita J. Halls of UW Health, who was Rita’s doctor for over thirty years. The compassionate and professional care rendered by Dr. Halls and her staff at the UW Internal Medicine Clinic at University Station not only prolonged her life but also eased her suffering. We also wish to thank Dr. Dennis Maki and his care team at UW Hospital TLC and Critical Care for their valiant effort to save Rita’s life. We will always treasure the extra time they gave us with Rita. A special mention, also, to Nurses Sarah, Kelly and Ryan for their loving and professional care. We know Rita would also like to thank everyone at UW Hospital and Clinics who cared for her and touched her life for all of these years. Also, much gratitude to Nurses Sharon and Carla and the rest of the caregivers at Wisconsin Dialysis East Clinic.
A memorial service will be held at GUNDERSON EAST FUNERAL HOME, 5203 Monona Dr., Madison, at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013. Visitation will be held at the funeral home from 5:00 p.m. until the time of service on Thursday.
Rita loved flowers, but a donation in her memory to support the UW Hospital and Clinics in their effort to give more people the wonderful care they gave to her would also be greatly appreciated. Please also consider becoming an organ donor as we, her family, have seen what a profound effect that the ”Gift of Life” can have on a person and their loved ones.