This story was supposed to have a different ending.
Joe Locke entered the hospital
for cancer surgery on Aug. 24. My plan was to wait until he was back home, set a lunch
date and spend an afternoon interviewing him about his experiences as a heart transplant
recipient and his determination to build a shrine to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
That lunch never happened.
Two days before the surgery,
Joe sent an e-mail: "Thanks again for your prayers. Operation starts 7:30 a.m. 24th
of August. I feel good and know I am in God's hands. If God calls me home, I pray that you
build the shrine as we have planned."
No one expected God to call
him home. Joe had survived so much before: heart bypass surgery, cardiomyopathy, a heart
transplant, prostate cancer, skin cancer.
Locke celebrated the sixth anniversary of his heart transplant in Hawaii with friends.
The latest surgery was to
remove cancerous lesions from his skull. Joe survived the surgery, but complications set
in. He died in the hospital on Aug. 31. He was 68.
C. Joseph Locke had a varied
career: as a merchant marine, a military police officer, a private detective, a political
consultant and a land developer. In his last years he was a tireless promoter of a project
that became his passion: to build a shrine in Oregon to honor the Virgin Mary.
The idea for the shrine was
Joe's own. When Joe's father died in 1983, Joe promised his dad that he would care for his
mother until her death. Dorothy Locke had Parkinson's disease, diabetes and cardiac
problems and was confined to a wheelchair for many years.
Joe kept his promise to care
for his mother despite numerous heart problems of his own. He underwent a quadruple bypass
in 1989. In 1991, doctors told him he had cardiomyopthy (an enlargement of the heart and
weakness of the heart muscle). His one chance for survival was a heart transplant.
Then began a long wait and
numerous hospitalizations . Joe prayed he would live to care for his loving mother,
Dorothy and he decided that if he survived, he would do something special in honor of her.
At the time, he didn't know what that something might be.
In May 1992, Joe got a call
from the transplant team at Oregon Health Sciences University. He received a new heart in
the early morning hours of May 31, 1992.
He became Heart Transplant
#187, a label he proudly incorporated into who he was. His return address labels read:
"Joe Locke, heart transplant recipient #187." The gift of a Christmas cake to
his doctor's office staff was inscribed in bright red icing: "Merry Christmas from
Heart Transplant Recipient #187."
Joe Locke, with friends, in 1996.
The gift of a new heart served
Joe well for seven years. He knew those years were borrowed time. On each anniversary of
his transplant, he gathered friends together for dinner and celebrated. On the sixth
anniversary, Joe and a group of friends flew off to vacation in Hawaii. Most importantly,
the new heart allowed him to live and care for his mother. Three weeks before her death,
Dorothy called Joe from her hospital bed. He was in a hospital across town recovering from
prostate cancer surgery. Dorothy was excited about a TV broadcast about a family in
Boardman, Ore., who reported that an image of Mary had appeared on a painting in their
"I think that's a sign,
Joe," she said.
Dorothy Locke died in February
1994. But it was not until a year later that Joe knew he'd found what he would do to honor
his mother. A friend had given him a copy of a magazine that featured a picture of a large
sculpture, Our Lady of Peace, in Santa Clara, Calif. Joe traveled to California to see the
sculpture for himself. Once there, he knew that committing to build a statue to honor
Jesus' mother and his own would be his passion.
Joe contacted the sculptor,
Charles C. Parks, and told him of plans to build a new statue. Joe named it "Our Lady
of Grace." Joe brought others into his dream. Friends helped him form an advisory
committee and a non-profit corporation. He started along a bumpy road to finding an Oregon
location for the shrine. The setbacks have been many. Still, Joe persisted.
Charles Parks of Wilmington,
Del., has begun work on the statue by sculpting an 85-pound, 30-inch heart for the statue.
The stainless steel statue itself, at 32 feet, will be the centerpiece for the shrine.
Friends gathered for Joe's funeral wearing the bright Hawaiian shirts he favored. They
traded stories of his life and his dreams. Joe Locke died before his biggest dream was
realized. But he had faith that people would step forward to complete his plans. The
shrine's board of directors is still in place, working to raise money and build the
shrine. Some day, somewhere in Oregon, a shrine to Our Lady of Grace will stand, and Joe's
dream will be a reality.
A statue of Our Lady of Peace in California. Joe Locke's dream was to build a similar
shrine in Oregon which the sculptor of Our Lady of Peace has now begun.