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Mary Lou Piazza, who helped found Komen chapter, dies at 59

Mary Lou Piazza, wife of Kootenai County Commissioner Rich Piazza and a founding member of a Coeur d’Alene organization that promotes breast cancer awareness, died Monday after a long battle with cancer. She was 59.

Piazza beat breast cancer twice, in the mid-1980s and mid-1990s, and became a leader in cancer awareness organizations in the county. She helped found the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Coeur d’Alene affiliate and worked with Reach for Recovery, talking to newly diagnosed women and helping them understand what to expect.

“She was an eternal optimist, looking to help anyone and everyone. Her smile brightened any and every room she entered. She was personally an inspiration to me,” said Jen Neely, past board chairwoman of Susan G. Komen for the Cure in Coeur d’Alene. “Mary Lou made the most of every day. She loved her family; she loved the community she lived in. She had many, many friends and touched many, many people.”

Those words were echoed across the community from people Piazza volunteered with, her co-workers in the banking industry and close friends. Descriptions of Piazza started with her huge smile and the hugs that accompanied most greetings, then quickly were followed with words like kind, caring and sensitive. She’d look you in the eye and really listen, her friends and colleagues said.

“What always struck me about Mary Lou was as soon as she entered a room, the environment changed. She was a light,” said Leslie Damiano, president of Kootenai County Republican Women Federated, of which Piazza was a member. “She was a teeny tiny lady and larger than life.”

Chris Maiani was a close family friend for almost 30 years.

“My husband calls her Little Miss Sunshine,” she said. “She always had a smile on her face. We used to laugh about nothing. She was just fun and funny and she loved her family. Her family was the most important thing to her.

“I just loved her so much. She’s one of those friends you’ll always be thankful for. She didn’t do anything halfway, ever.”

Friend and Post Falls Chamber of Commerce CEO Pam Houser said Piazza’s greatest joy was being a mother and grandmother. Her ability to balance her family with her professional and civic life made her a hero and mentor to Houser.

Breast cancer survivor Judy Nixon worked with Piazza in the American Cancer Society’s Reach for Recovery organization, which Nixon coordinates. Volunteers call women “just starting their journey” to offer support and practical tips to make life easier, Nixon said.

“She was somebody who always had a very positive outlook on life and could empathize with people who were going through the process,” Nixon said. “She could soothe peoples’ feelings just with the way she talked.”

Piazza’s fun side extended to camping trips and cruises where she was surrounded by friends. Piazza helped organize cruises for large groups of friends to places such as the Caribbean and Alaska. “They really taught us how to vacation properly,” said Houser.

Piazza’s cancer returned in December, close friends said.

Piazza is survived by her husband of 40 years, Rich; two children, Salvatore and Nicole; and four grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were not available Tuesday.

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