11/03/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Death of a National Hero You've Never Heard Of

Five months ago, I left my home in New York and made a pilgrimage to a nursing home on top of a remote hill in West Virginia to visit an extraordinary yet frail and ailing woman. She was easy to find - but no other journalist had tried in more than a decade.

The small, moss green sign outside Room 312 was labeled with a removable slip of paper that read, Marian McQuade. Inside, I found the milky-haired 91-year-old mother of 15 children quietly laying in bed covered head-to-toe in a quilt that was noticeably not institution-issued. Her room was decorated as if a time-capsule had exploded. Photographs, letters, and posters covered every inch of every wall and all of it shouted to anyone who entered the history that had consumed her younger life - the establishment of a national holiday to celebrate the nation's oldest generation. It had been her crusade.

I had to meet Mrs. McQuade, to thank her. Not because I ever honored my own grandparents on Grandparents Day, but because after the deaths of my mother and father, the holiday provides an unparalleled opportunity for keeping their memory alive for my children.

For the first time this September, members of Parentless Parents, a national network of support groups for mothers and fathers who have lost their own parents, collectively and purposefully extended the mission of Grandparents Day. We helped our children remember their grandparents. We decorated wooden frames so our children could place pictures of their grandparents inside and planted Forget-Me-Not flowers.

Through Parentless Parents, Mrs. McQuade knew I would continue to ensure the legacy of grandparents all over the country. But perhaps she knew something even more that day. Perhaps she knew I would be ensuring hers. When I left her room that April afternoon, Mrs. McQuade only had to whisper, "Thank you."

Marian McQuade died on Friday, September 26th. A national hero you now have heard of.