Mary “Joanne” Driggs
May 22, 1949 - April 10, 2022
Mary “Joanne” Driggs, the eldest child of five born to Rose (Suriani) and Henry Tomassi of Buffalo, NY, passed away at home in Newark, DE, on April 10, 2022. Joanne had chosen to spend the final months of her life in the comfort of her own home surrounded by those she loved.
Joanne was the oldest granddaughter on both sides of her family, which led her to be the caretaker of her many cousins at family events. That first role fostered her future as a caretaker and lover of small children. As a child, Joanne enjoyed music and dancing, and wanted to be math teacher. Upon graduation from Mount Mercy Academy, her parents convinced her to pursue a career in Nursing at Sisters of Charity Hospital as they believed it would be a reliable source of employment. Joanne thrived at Sisters, forging life-long friendships and even being voted as their version of Miss Congeniality. During summers she worked as a nurses’ aide, which led her to meet her future husband in August of 1968. Charles Driggs was a respiratory patient on her floor who was having a difficult time due to summer allergies in an extreme heat wave in the Buffalo area in 1968. Joanne was the only staff on the floor willing to try to convince him to wear a hospital gown, although the hospital was intolerably hot and humid for lack of air conditioning. After talking with him, she understood ‘why’, then checked on and talked to him several times a day during his week-long stay. The following week, Charlie returned to the hospital to visit another patient, and ran into Joanne at the entrance. He thanked her for her kindness and asked her to dinner. Thus started their fifty-three-year relationship. Joanne and Charlie married in 1971 and welcomed 3 children into their family over the next 8 years. The family moved several times due to college, job changes, and professional advancements. During these years, Joanne continued nursing in various departments, notably general surgery/operating room, emergency care, and four years in a head and neck cancer unit, one which affected her deeply. Deciding she needed a more hopeful work environment, so Joanne switched to labor & delivery, and soon after to the Neonatal Intensive Care. Joanne continued to work in L&D and NICU for the next 30 years, also working part-time for pediatric and family medicine practices. NICU and difficult births were her specialty, and she worked in four hospitals aiding in deliveries and providing intensive care for over 4,000 babies.
There was an involuntary break in Joanne’s career in 1984 when she was diagnosed with an ‘inoperable’ brain tumor. Devastated, her family prayed to find a solution, which appeared while seeking a second opinion at Johns Hopkins Hospital. It came in the form of an unexpected experimental tool received just 3 days prior to her arrival. Joanne became the world’s first patient to both undergo surgery with this machine and go on to resume life after removal of the rare tumor. Her case & surgery results were presented to over 300 international surgeons at Johns Hopkins 3 days after the procedure, and the technology went on to “revolutionize” neurosurgery for deep brain tumors. Recovery took nearly a year, extended by a debated series of targeted radiation treatments to prevent tumor reappearance. Twenty-five years later, side-effects began appearing, linked to x-ray induced dementia; these developments complicated her life for the last decade after forcing retirement from Nursing in 2012.
In her free time Joanne loved time at “the beach”, socializing with friends and family, cooking, baking, cross stitch, quilting, volunteer work, and fresh flowers in the home. She loved being around children, particularly her own grandchildren. Joanne was blessed to assist in the delivery of two of her children’s little ones. Joanne was a devoted mother and friend to quite a few people, whether living close by or far away. In 2021, Joanne and the love of her life celebrated 50 years of marriage, surrounded by several generations of family.
Joanne is survived by her husband Charlie; children, Marc (spouse Melissa), Peter (spouse Jennie) and Elizabeth (spouse Ernie Ambrose); grandchildren, Emma, Grace, Caelan, Noah, Felix and Juniper; and siblings, Gerald (spouse Judith), Henry (son Anthony), and Carol (daughters Bianca and Angela), sister-in-law Diane, (daughter Erica), brother-in-law James (spouse Sue, children Erin, Trevor, Ryan and Meaghan) and 10 grand nieces and nephews.
A Catholic Funeral Mass will be offered Sunday, May 22, 2022, 1 pm at, St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church, 2431 Frazer Road, Newark, DE 19702. Interment will be held at a later date.