In Memory

Sally Mullen

MISSOULA – Sally Mullen retired from Planet Earth on Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015. Comforting her toward her final breath were her longtime partner and soulmate Terry Kendrick, sister Rozzy, and loyal cat Jackson. Sally often joked and was teased about her penchant for repeatedly retiring. Although retirement was a long-held career goal, for decades she offered services to her community, willing to trouble-shoot for faltering organizations – some small businesses and governmental agencies, but mostly nonprofits whose ideals were close to Sally’s heart. She applied her innate talents and self-taught skills to YWCA Missoula, Blue Mountain Clinic (three different stints, including the rebuild after the 1993 firebombing), Mountain Line, Missoula Developmental Service Corporation, Garden City Harvest, Missoula Demonstration Project, Life’s End Institute, WORD/WEDCO, the Missoula Public Library, the Office of Planning and Grants, and others.

Sally was an unlikely fixer. According to Sally, she majored in Eddie’s Club (now Charlie B’s) in college and dropped out twice. In her twenties, she taught herself bookkeeping, guiding such early Missoula legends as Luke’s Bar and Freddy’s Feed and Read toward healthier financial footing. Soon it became apparent that fixing these messes – whether as consultant, manager, or CEO – was her calling. She began each project by patiently and respectfully interviewing all people involved: board members, directors, managers, and especially the staff engaged in the difficult frontline work. Then came retreats, inclusive brainstorming sessions, rewritten job descriptions, efforts to tamp down egos and to embolden everyone to strive toward the common goal. Her remarkable powers of observation, listening skills, fascination with human interaction, astute interpretation of the sources of problems, ability to imagine improvement, and courage to push for change enabled her to help, even save, numerous organizations. She built a reputation as the person who could and wanted to tackle the biggest challenges, to “right the ship.” To Sally’s delight, Terry suggested she develop a professional website: “sally@f#!&” Sally seldom actually sought a job; jobs found her. She trusted the Universe to deliver both purposeful work and sustenance. A cherished perk of her career was cultivating robust relationships with numerous colleagues, many of whom became lifelong friends. Mayor John Engen proclaimed Nov. 6, 2015, Sally Mullen Day to honor her dedication and extraordinary contributions to our community. On that day, over 200 people attended a celebration for and with Sally, many attesting to her profound, positive influence on their lives. The event, which Sal jokingly called her “Premorial,” illuminated how many people’s lives she had touched with her brilliance, compassion, and irreverent humor. Lifted and humbled by the outpouring of love and support, Sally was visibly glowing during the event and for days afterwards. She requested that no other service be held.

Professionally, metaphorically, and on actual streets and highways, Sally favored taking the “long cut,” the circuitous route, the backroad that might unveil surprises and opportunities to encounter something unexpected. Though she enthusiastically traveled to different parts of the world, Sally especially enjoyed long, loopy road trips – stopping to see friends, to visit an art gallery, to examine bird, beast, and landscape through her ever-present binoculars. Since childhood Sally habitually hauled rocks and shells home from her travels, sweet reminders of her adventures and the magic of Mother Nature. These found treasures connected her viscerally and visually to people and places she loved.

With a keen eye for strays, strugglers, and diamonds in the rough, Sally reached out to other humans all her life with authentic curiosity, trust, hope, open ears and heart. She was a genius in the field of friendship. Whether she met people in school, at AA, Unity Church, through work, or in some random way, she saw promise in them even when they didn’t see it in themselves. She was especially smitten with quirky, smart oddballs. If you are reading this and recognize the pattern, know that you are among her treasured friends. Sally considered herself incredibly lucky that she and Terry found each other. They lived, played, worked together, traveled, counseled, and loved each other for almost three decades in such a radiant way that all who knew them felt it and marveled. Included in their Circle of Familiars are the cats Jackson and Baby Kitty.

Born in Billings, the youngest child of Mary Alice Reynolds and Leslie Vig Mullen, Sally loved Montana and claimed it as home. She amused, challenged, and was boundlessly devoted to her siblings: the late Pete Mullen and his wife Mary, Guil and his wife Donna, Rosalind Hudgens and her husband John States. She relished her role as Aunt Sally to her nieces, nephews, and their children. Aunt Sally supported their efforts to find their own way, taught them things their parents could not, and loved them unconditionally. She deliberately made time to “hog each one to herself,” convincing each that he or she was her favorite.

Sally pursued spirituality using the same winding, whimsical M.O. of her road trips, in her fifties becoming an ordained interfaith minister. She eloquently performed numerous weddings, commitment ceremonies, celebrations of life – always entwining wisdom and compassion with humor. It was not unusual to hear people exclaim after events she officiated that they had never experienced such a perfect wedding or memorial. She mindfully continued her spiritual search, practicing gratitude and non-judgment, even in her final days pondering and discussing what might lie ahead. She expressed intrigue about the possibility that all life forms come from energy and after death return to Divine Energy. Her inquisitive mind playfully noticed the recurring theme of reincarnation in many world religions. Pay close attention to your cats; Sally’s spirit may be lingering there.

  In her remarks at the Nov. 6 event, Sally said: “Cancer is not the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. Being untrue to myself, hiding my light under a bushel, doing things because I thought that’s what other people thought I should do, thinking I should be able to fix things over which I had no control – those are the tragedies that are so harmful and take so much effort to change. My job was to become the best Sally I could, and I think I batted fairly well, especially as I aged. The result is that I’m at peace with my future.” Sally was profoundly grateful for the love, support, and many acts of kindness she received throughout her life, particularly in this last year.

A poem written by Sally Mullen:


With cannons perched upon this rocky ridge

And mortars placed below, beside the road,

The battle rages – slowly, slowly –

Until the enemy is reduced to blood.

Leafing through these sun-parched pages,

I understand at once the entire plan:

Masses of enemy soldiers pitted

Man against common man.

What eyes have seen this text, I wonder,

Or minds conceived the endless plot

Retold in these pages, Purges, battles,

Toil, suffering – one small chapter that

Does not differ much from all the others.

 Oh how I marvel at man’s ingenuity

At rationalizing mass murder

Into his benevolent duty.



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07/29/17 10:02 AM #1    

Sherry Cox

Most of my great memories at BSHS involve Sally.  Mainly we were laughing, or really, I was laughing at her wicked sardonic hysterical take on things.  She opened my eyes to the veins of unfairness and stupidity that run in our culture (her life was spent fighting them, or rather trying to create other avenues of care and justice) and she also turned me on to Lucky Strikes and another kind of smoke too.  I can still see that smart, lit up, kinda snarky, and totally wise look on her face.  Oh how I wish I had stayed closer in the past decades when her soul ripened into a true buddha.  Her picture is on my bulletin board reminding me to love fiercely.

07/30/17 11:15 PM #2    

James Jovanovich

Sherry, I love your comment about Sally's hysterical sardonic take on life, and ripening into the Buddha. I so agree. I knew Sally since the first grade, I was so sad to learn on this site that she has been gone since 2015. I remember I gave her a ride once from Missoula to Billings, in the early 70's I think.  I spent  the whole trip listening to her extemporize on all facets of the "human predicament", and loving it. Few people can so combine  cynicism and hope, humour and snarkiness into a deftly worded little one sentence story like she could. Her wit gave us strength.

07/31/17 10:38 PM #3    

Norma Tirrell

Sally and I never lost track of one another after we graduated from high school. At most, a year or two would pass without our communicating. Most of the time, however, we talked more than once a year and always, without fail, she called me on my birthday. "Norma, it's your pal Sal." How I miss those greetings. I was honored when she asked me to speak at what she described as her "premorial" held in downtown Missoula on Nov. 6, 2015. It was a grand celebration that drew the kind of cross-section you would expect at a party in honor of someone who gave so generously to her community, ranging from state legislators and city officials to clients of the many nonprofits she served and spiritual seekers of all stripes. She was revered by the women of Missoula. Below are the comments I crafted in honor of my pal Sal. 

Sally and I began our lifelong march together as Billings Senior High majorettes in 1965. (That’s what women’s sports looked like before Title IX.) Together, we endured three years of early-morning practices, halftime performances, leg makeup, winning smiles, unnatural hair and unflattering uniforms.


But we came of age together in the late ‘60s-early ‘70s as roommates here in Missoula. Lord, what we’ve been through together since…


    *  Countless trips, some of them in cars, and many of which I have absolutely no recollection of.


    *  The nearly concurrent deaths of parents In 1990. Together, we walked the halls of the Deaconess Hospital in Billings as her father and my mother died just days apart. For breaks, we revisited dive restaurants in downtown Billings and moved our walks to Pioneer Park.


While still in high school, I remember hot summer nights on Yellowstone Avenue in Billings when the miller-moths swarmed under outdoor light fixtures and banged on the doors and windows until they got in. Sally and her dad, Les, were incorrigible punsters and Mother Mary Alice egged them on with full body laughter. I couldn’t keep up so just sat back, enjoyed the show and marveled at their quick wit.


There are so many things I treasure about my friendship with Sally but surely one of them is the utter deterioration of so many conversations into hysterical laughter until we were both in tears. It’s happened a lot and, for me, it’s happened only with Sally. She remains the only person who can bring me to tears through laughter.


The other thing I treasure, as does everyone in this room, is Sally’s wry observation of the human condition. From family relationships to politics to bodily functions, nothing escapes her keen eye for the absurd. Nothing is too important, too sacred or too serious not to be laughable at some level. It’s that peculiar strain of humor that marks a Mullen and Sally has carried on the tradition admirably. Laughter has lightened the load for all of us and for that I will always be grateful.

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