WHEN CHILDREN of the Laverty family began to question the existence of Santa Claus, one thing they had no doubts about: There definitely was a "Mrs. Claus."
She was Mom and Grandmom - Teresa Laverty.
And if there was a Mrs. Claus, there had to be a Santa Claus. Right?
Christmas was one of Teresa's favorite holidays and she made the most of it. With six children and eight grandchildren, as well as in-laws, nieces and nephews, her gift list was rather extensive.
It didn't matter. Mrs. Claus made sure everybody got a gift.
Teresa Elizabeth O'Neill Laverty, who devoted her life to taking care of others - as a nurse for 50 years, and as a wife, mother, grandmother, colleague and friend - died Sunday of complications of a lung disease. She was 84 and lived in Riverton, N.J.
Teresa was one of the leaders of a lengthy strike by nurses against Lourdes Medical Center in Willingboro, N.J., in 2004. She was a shop steward of the New Jersey nurses' union, JNESO (Jersey Nurses Economic Security Organization), which sought fair treatment in the workplace.
Although her work earned her a leadership award from the union, the strike petered out without resolution. Of the 287 nurses who walked out in April 2004, many went back to work or found other employment, and the hospital hired replacement nurses.
That was the end of Teresa's nursing career, which included Zurbrugg Memorial Hospital as well as Lourdes. She was 74 and decided it was time to retire.
Her family said Teresa led the strike not for any abstract notions of labor justice, but to support her fellow nurses. That was all Teresa ever thought about, taking care of the needs of others.
"She was truly a revered figure," a family member said. "She had a strong sense of right and wrong and never hesitated to support fellow workers if she thought they were being treated unjustly."
But the main focus of Teresa's life was her family.
When her six children were growing up, Teresa worked night shifts so she could see the kids off to school in the morning and be there when they got home.
"She didn't get a good night's sleep for 25 years," her family said.
When Teresa was a patient at Virtua Memorial Hospital in Mount Holly, N.J., she was overly considerate of the nurses, her family said.
"She wouldn't ask them for anything," a family member said. "We had to speak up for her.
"When the family visited her, she never talked about herself. Her only concern was for her family members. She wanted to know all about the family, who was going to a prom, how a niece was making out in her nurse's night shift.
"Her selflessness was amazing."
In addition to Christmas, Teresa made the most of all holidays as the hostess with the mostess. Her Fourth of July celebrations were lavish and served as a time for a family reunion. Family members came from around the country to attend.
Teresa was the daughter of William O'Neill and Lillian Miller. She graduated from Burlington High School in 1947, and went on to the Northeastern Hospital School of Nursing in Philadelphia, where she earned her nurse's degree in 1951.
She married John M. Laverty in 1953, and they lived in the same house in Riverton, which they built themselves, until her death.
Teresa was a member of the Catholic Daughters of America, which strives "to be helping hands where there is pain, poverty, sorrow or sickness."
She also was an active board member of the Rancocas Federal Credit Union, which serves more than 500 New Jersey hospital employees and their families.
Her husband, an office manager for an insurance company, died in 2009. She is survived by four daughters, Marilyn Laverty, Maureen Laverty, Mary Pat Peters and Jennifer Laverty; two sons, John and Patrick Laverty; a sister, Ann Clark; and eight grandchildren.