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Chicago Loses A Beloved Teacher To COVID-19

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Chicago has lost a beloved teacher to COVID-19. Olga Quiroga taught in the city's public schools for three decades. She was a bilingual educator known for her patience and her passion for helping immigrant students, a journey she understood personally when she came to the U.S. from Mexico in the 1980s. Olga Quiroga died on October 1, just a day after her 58th birthday.

We're joined now by Giovanna Quiroga, who was one of her three daughters. Ms. Quiroga, thanks so much for being with us.

GIOVANNA QUIROGA: Thank you so much.

SIMON: And today, Saturday, is your mother's memorial - a tough week. How are you planning to say goodbye?

QUIROGA: We will have her services today. And at the end of her services, we will have a deacon and, you know, just give her final blessing and all that. And we'll just speak about her a little bit. But we'll keep it short, you know? It's hard on all of us, so...

SIMON: Yeah. Your mother did not take a conventional path to become a teacher, did she?

QUIROGA: No, she did not (laughter).

SIMON: And it says a lot about her. Could you tell us?

QUIROGA: Absolutely. You know, my mother, she was born in Mexico. She came to this country when she married my dad. When she started her studies here in Chiacgo, she started with GED classes, took English classes and from there, you know, got her associate's and then moved on to Chicago State University where she received her bachelor's. And, you know, she began her career as a teacher, which, for her, was never a job. It was always something that she loved every single day up until her last day that she went to work.

SIMON: What do you think made your mother such a great teacher?

QUIROGA: Her love. My mom referred to each one of her students as one of her kids. I remember times where she would tell my sisters and I to gather old clothing or toys, even bicycles that we no longer used, and she would donate them to families in her school that, you know, had less than we did.

SIMON: Boy.

QUIROGA: She cared about every single person.

SIMON: This must have been an incredibly tough period for you. And I just wonder when you hear someone say people shouldn't fear the virus, when you hear the president say that, how does it make you feel?

QUIROGA: I don't understand it. I don't understand why people, let alone our president, the leader of our country - right? - would make light of such a situation. Not only did I lose my mother to COVID, my mother passed it on to my father, myself and my younger sister. So I personally know what this virus does. I felt that pain and all that.

SIMON: Did you have a chance to talk to your mother in her last days or weeks?

QUIROGA: No. I took my mom to the ER on September 11. And then I didn't - we didn't really talk that day. It was just rushing her to the hospital. And then we didn't see her again until October 1, the day that she passed. So there was no...

SIMON: Oh, my gosh.

QUIROGA: ...Talking to her in that three-week time period.

SIMON: That must be especially rough, too.

QUIROGA: Very much so.

SIMON: What lesson or inspiration do you think your mother might hope others could draw from her life now?

QUIROGA: That anything and everything that you want and you dream of is possible. And that's something that she's always taught us as her daughters. Things get hard, but you never give up. And you keep going. And you do it with lots of love. And that's what people remember about my mom - her smile and her eyes just full of warmth and love.

SIMON: Giovanna Quiroga - her mother Olga Quiroga passed away due to COVID-19 earlier this month. Our thanks to your mother for an extraordinary life and to you for speaking with us. Thank you.

QUIROGA: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.