NORTHBORO - Karen Walsh traveled from Northboro to Broadway, then fought cancer with bravery and creativity to raise awareness and encourage early screenings.
Besides her considerable talents as an actress and singer along with her spirit and wit, Walsh, who died on May 30 in New York City at 41, is being remembered as a good friend.
A memorial Mass will be held at 11 a.m. Monday in St. Rose of Lima Church, 244 West Main St. Among her survivors she leaves her husband, Todd Rullman, and their two young children, Zoe and Tate.
Liza Skinner, who went to school with Walsh at Notre Dame Academy in Worcester and has posted her memories of Walsh, recalled getting together with her about eight years ago while Walsh was understudying on Broadway.
"She took me backstage and showed me around a bit. It was awesome. You see that was Karen — it didn't matter how long it had been since you had seen her, she would just open up her heart, home or current theater and bring you around to meet people and make you feel wonderful the whole time," Skinner said. "She did it all with such joy, grace and kindness. There is that warm fuzzy feeling I mentioned earlier. I can't help but feel it when I think of her. It is that feeling she gave to us all, that we will carry around forever."
Walsh made her Broadway debut in the Roundabout Theater Company's 2007 production of "Prelude to a Kiss," and was later seen in Roundabout's productions of "Pygmalion," "The Road to Mecca" and "Machinal." Last year she understudied Mary-Louise Parker in the Broadway premiere of "Heisenberg."
Walsh grew up in Littleton and Northboro and began to make her mark as an actress at Notre Dame Academy, which she graduated from in 1993.
"She was in all my shows for her four years of high school," said Virginia Byrne, who teaches theater at Notre Dame. "She had a voice from heaven and a superb sense of comic timing. Her career was to be sensational."
Last year Walsh was inducted into the Notre Dame Academy Society of the Arts, honoring alumnae who have gone on to excel in the arts.
Sister Ann Morrison, principal of Notre Dame Academy, said Thursday that Walsh "was a strong student and — more importantly — a genuine friend. "
"Karen was pure joy and I will never forget her smile or fantastic laugh," said Skinner. "Or the way she sang 'What's the Use of Wond'rin' ' as Julie Jordan in our high school musical 'Carousel.' "
Walsh went on to receive a bachelor's degree in theater from Indiana University and a master of fine arts in acting degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Her off-Broadway credits included “Suddenly Last Summer” with Blythe Danner and Carla Gugino, and “Jack’s Precious Moment” opposite Eddie Kay Thomas. Her film and television credits included "Rebel in the Rye," "American Odyssey," "The Michael J. Fox Show," "Power," "Deception," "Boardwalk Empire," "Law and Order" and "Law and Order: SVU." She was active on behalf of various causes.
In September 2015 Walsh was in the middle of organizing a Broadway benefit for the American Cancer Society when she was diagnosed (after experiencing a cramp in her left side) with stage IV colon cancer. The benefit went ahead and raised thousands of dollars.
With the help of choreographer Sam Pinkleton, Walsh began documenting her chemotherapy treatments on Instagram with themed photo shoots. She would invite family and friends, including many of her fellow actors, to stage elaborately themed photo shoots in the infusion room. The idea was to advocate screening for people younger than 50 and to promote that a cancer diagnosis is conquerable.
"I lunched with her last July and shared her excitement about taking the job of understudying Mary-Louise Parker in 'Heisenberg' and possibly putting her 'chemotherapy shows' into a book," said Byrne. "She was feeling great."
Parker, who participated on one of the shoots, has recalled, "The whole thing was emblematic of who she was — a real artist who could go to her cancer treatment and somehow make her cancer just the footnote."
The American Cancer Society named Walsh 2016 Mother of the Year, and the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable appointed her an Ambassador for the 80% by 2018 initiative to get 80 percent of the eligible population screened by 2018.
Walsh was named during the In Memorial roll at last Sunday's Tony Awards. On June 8 the Roundabout Theater dimmed the marquees in her honor.
For more information, visit karenwalshrullman.org.
Contact Richard Duckett at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TGRDuckett