Rincon remembered for her loving heart

Madison mom who lost her life to ovarian cancer made everyone who knew her feel special

Monica Rincon was one who always wanted to gather friends together to celebrate someone's birthday or achievement.

So when her friends got the call July 6 from her husband, Chris Dooley, that Monica had passed away at age 49, they knew they had to do something for her.

"When we got the news from Chris that Monica had passed, I think that the first thought for so many of us was, 'We have to get the ribbons up,' because that was what Monica would have done and that is what we had to do," said Laura Tortorello, who met Monica when their sons started kindergarten at Madison School.

But tying ribbons wasn't enough, especially since a memorial service would not be held due to the pandemic.

"I think everyone just felt like they wanted to celebrate her somehow," Tortorello said. "It was such a crazy time. We couldn't really be together, but we wanted to do something that we felt like would reach her, that she would smile."

So her friends and their families gathered July 8 at Robbins Park to launch hundreds of balloons in her memory.

A group gathered again this month at the home of Joe and Sherry Moawad to pay tribute to Monica during the Walk for Wellness sponsored by Wellness House, said Jennifer Burns.

Burns, who also met Monica when their sons started kindergarten, said the connection was immediate.

"Honestly, I don't think there's a person she ever met that wasn't a friend," Burns said. "She was just that kind of person. Everybody was a friend.

"Her warmth and positive energy, every room she walked into brightened."

Sandra Cordova Micek, who met Monica some 21 years ago while attending the Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia, said Monica became part of her family. Monica was especially close to Micek's daughter and the two shared an interest in drawing.

"When I told my daughter that Monica passed away, her response was, 'Oh, no! She is the person who had the most joy of anyone I've ever met,' " said Micek, who lives in Wilmette. "I don't know what describes her any better than that."

Monica's spirit made her home a wonderful one for the people she shared it with - husband Chris and sons Nicolas, 16, and Santiago, 13.

"She was a fantastic mother," Chris said. "She was everything you would expect.

"She loved to laugh. She brought so much energy into the house, so much love for the boys," he added.

Monica was the one to encourage the group to get out of the house for a walk or a bike ride and to plan family vacations. She would take the boys to her native Colombia for about six weeks every summer, and the family would travel together there at least once a year, Chris said.

"We really built a multicultural family. She really adapted well to the U.S., but she never lost her identity and love of being a Colombian," he said.

Chris actually helped her acclimate after she immigrated here and enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, home to the Wharton School of Business, where Chris was getting his MBA.

"Coincidentally, I had learned Spanish during a year off before business school, so it was convenient that I could help her," he said. "As we got to know each other, it became apparent that we got along really well."

The two were married July 2, 2000, and spent a year living in Paris - a city Monica loved. They also lived in San Francisco for many years before moving here.

Monica loved to spend time in downtown Chicago, Chris said, noting that Hinsdale was the first suburb she had ever called home. Its embrace turned out to be a wonderful support after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in January 2017.

"Hinsdale is fantastic in terms of the amount of love she got back from her community and her friends," he said.

Micek said Monica had a gift for bringing people together.

"She was just a natural gatherer and connector of friends. She was really special in that way," Micek said.

Monica continued to think of others even after doctors told her they were discontinuing her chemo treatments.

"That was really important to her to have closure with people who meant the most to her," Chris said. "She wasn't feeling great the last few weeks and she still found the energy."

Burns said she is thankful for that final conversation.

"I hadn't seen her," she said. "I had talked with her a lot, talked and texted, but I hadn't really seen her since COVID until then. That was an opportunity to say some things that you didn't want to leave unsaid."

Tortorello said Monica had a gift of making people feel seen, loved and valued.

"If you have to measure a life in the number of people that you touch - not necessarily the years that you live, but the people that you touch - she led a very full life in that regard."

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean