You probably missed seeing Madeleine (Flannery) Samarco in the 1980 movie “Caddyshack.”
She was an extra in the film and appeared only on screen for a moment. Look for a short woman standing next to the tall man in a camera shot of bystanders just before greenskeeper Carl Spackler (Bill Murray) blows up the green.
Madeleine, my sister-in-law’s mother, missed seeing herself, too. When she and husband Jim went to the theater to watch the film, she was offended by the foul language and raunchy behavior. They walked out after the first 15 minutes.
It is a shame you missed Madeleine. She was a golf fan unlike any other. She recently passed away in her 102nd summer near Pittsburgh, surrounded by her family. Hers was a life well-lived.
The reason she got her “Caddyshack” cameo was because she played golf at Rolling Hills Golf Club, a public track near her home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. That’s where most of the movie was filmed. She and Jim thought it would be fun to answer the casting call for extras, which simply required them to hang around the course for a few days until needed.
Jim also appeared in the movie. A decent golfer, he filled in as a stunt double to hit one tee shot for an actor who wasn’t adept at golf. Neither Madeleine’s daughter, Madeleine; her other daughter, Barbara (my sister-in-law); or her son, Kirwan, remember which actor he replaced. But they remember Madeleine saying she got paid $75 for her part. Madeleine and Jim also danced in the background during a party scene at the club but didn’t appear in the final cut.
Why are you reading about Madeleine? Because she was one in a million, not only as a golf nut (the good kind), but as a person. She was soft yet strong; innocent yet resilient and resourceful; optimistic yet pragmatic; and radiant in her goodness.
Her children claim she had a drug problem. “Every week, she drug us to church and drug us to Sunday school,” recalls Barbara, who still has her perfect attendance pins to prove it.
Madeleine’s first husband, Kirwan Flannery, was a successful funeral director. They enjoyed 28 years together before he passed away. She was 52 and a stay-at-home mom. She was forced to sell her house and move. She landed a job as a travel agent.
One of her new neighbors, Betty Samarco, was in a difficult battle with cancer. Madeleine visited her to provide comfort almost daily. It was an act of unconditional kindness and love. So much so that Betty told her husband, “Jimmy, when I die, you should marry that woman. She’ll take good care of you.”
Betty lost her fight with cancer. Jim Samarco listened to his wife. He later married Madeleine. They were together for 32 years before he, too, passed away.
Jim gave Madeleine a gift that lasted the rest of her life (which proved to be a very long time):
He taught her the game. She got hooked on it and played at least twice a week at several Fort Lauderdale-area courses, including the infamous Rolling Hills. She didn’t put her clubs down until she was 89.
Early on, she excitedly called her daughter Madeleine to tell her she’d broken 100. Her daughter told her that was really good for an older lady. “No,” Madeleine replied, “I broke 100 for only nine holes.”
Her enthusiasm for golf was unwavering even though her handicap never dipped below 36. She was very proud that she won her flight in the club championship three years in a row at the two courses where she played in leagues.
She was an avid golfer despite a few mishaps. In her early 80s, she fractured her hip and had to spend six weeks recovery time in her apartment, which had 16 steps leading to the front door. The first thing she did after six weeks, her daughters say, was go to hit a bucket of balls at a golf course range. As a fellow avid golfer and as someone who got to know Madeleine in her last two decades, I can just about guarantee Madeleine didn’t wait the full six weeks before she went to the range. She just didn’t tell her daughters.
When she was 87, she got run over by a golf cart… her own cart. It was a freak accident. The cart brake either didn’t stay locked or Madeleine didn’t lock it. She went behind the cart and got her club out of the bag. Then the cart began moving downhill. It picked up enough speed to knock her down and roll over her. She didn’t suffer any broken bones but was bruised and had an ugly gouge on her shin with a lot of blood.
Her playing partners insisted on driving her to the hospital but Madeleine declined. “I’m going to finish this round,” she told her pals. Then she played the remaining 14 holes and drove herself to the emergency room.
She ended up spending two months at her daughter Madeleine’s home in Connecticut to recover.
After that, her weekly golf rounds resumed in Florida. At 89, she took a fall in her kitchen while entertaining guests for dinner. They wanted to take her to the hospital but you can probably guess her response. “I went to all the trouble of cooking this chicken divan,” she told her friends. “You’re going to eat it and enjoy it. Then you can take me to the hospital.”
At 90, her hip gave out and she fell in a Florida drugstore’s parking lot. An ambulance came this time. She required back surgery, too, and that was the end of her golf-playing career.
It did not end her interest in golf. She relocated to the Pittsburgh area, near Barbara, in a senior-living facility. She regularly corresponded with her golfing buddies in Florida.
She loved watching professional golf on TV maybe even as much as she loved playing the game. She didn’t miss many golf telecasts. Anytime we had a family get-together, she’d pepper me with questions about who was winning, what did I think of so-and-so golfer, and what tournaments I was going to go to next. Her favorite golfer was Jordan Spieth. “He just seems like a nice guy,” Madeleine said. “I like it when they show him on TV.” I assured her that he was, indeed, perhaps the nicest man on the PGA Tour. That made her smile.
When she visited, I made sure the TV was turned on to any golf tournament in progress. Her hearing deteriorated in her later years so closed-captioning was a great option for her.
Near the end, her body simply wore out. Her heart struggled to pump hard enough to keep her lungs working—congestive heart failure.
The last thing she did, appropriately enough, was watch golf. The British Open telecast from Royal Liverpool, which Brian Harman won by six strokes, was on the TV in her hospital room. Her grandson, Frank, held his phone near Madeleine’s face every so often so she could see the leaderboard. She really was paying attention, despite all the morphine that had been pumped into her.
Suddenly, she gripped Frank’s fingers tightly and wouldn’t let go. She said something about “playing the last hole.” Then she closed her eyes. She passed peacefully within a few minutes.
She was a mother, a wife, a radiant source of positivity and a good soul. If it was up to Madeleine, though, I’m pretty sure she would enjoy being remembered as one other word:
She earned it. A memorable line from “Caddyshack” aptly described her life: “That’s a peach, Hon.”