"Texas-Sized Hearts": Meet Patrick O'Hara ('07) & Audrey Maness ('07)
"Audrey, I received the best compliment at work today," Patrick O'Hara told his wife, Audrey Maness, one day in the fall of 2010. "My legal secretary just asked if I would take care of her youngest son if she passed away."
Patrick (JD '07) and Audrey (JD '07) met at Pepperdine School of Law in 2004, where they were both Faculty Scholars, members of a highly selective scholarship program. Their friendship soon turned to courtship, and they married between their second and third year of law school. They graduated at the top of their class in 2007 and landed highly coveted jobs in Houston, Texas: Patrick joined the Lanier Law Firm, the first former summer clerk to be offered a full-time position there, while Audrey went to work for Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. Both were focused on their careers after graduation, with thoughts of a potential family on the proverbial back burner. In fact, Audrey told Patrick while still in law school that she never wanted to have children, and Patrick accepted her decision, though he secretly suspected at the time that she might one day change her mind.
Patrick's legal secretary at the Lanier Law Firm was Claire, a single mother of four with a recent but passionate faith in Christ. Claire had not been in Texas much longer than Patrick, uprooted after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005. Claire's then-employer had called a friend at the Lanier Law Firm in hopes that they might be hiring a legal assistant; a door opened, and Claire was instantly loved at her new firm. When Patrick arrived in 2007, he immediately struck Claire as an intelligent, kind, and giving young man. They began a deep friendship rooted in a mutual admiration for Christ.
By early 2010, Audrey's heart had started to change about having children. She told Patrick that she felt an unexplained calling to become foster parents. Soon, their lives were filled with home evaluations, foster parent training, and preparation for the next steps. They were ready to serve as foster parents by early fall of 2010, but then delays in paperwork unexpectedly stalled their ability to receive foster children.
One day at the law firm in October 2010, Claire told Patrick that she was not feeling well, and that that had led her to lie in bed all night thinking about what would happen to her four children if she passed away. "My oldest child will be okay because she is already a senior in college, my second daughter could live with her grandmother, my third child could live with his uncle in Virginia, but I was not sure where my youngest son would go," Claire told Patrick. "He is academically gifted and I would like him to be raised by someone who is intelligent and values education. I thought of you, Patrick." Caught off guard, Patrick replied, "You can't separate your kids, Claire. You have to keep them together! If something happened to you, I would take care of all of them."
One month later, Claire was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Patrick came home and told Audrey about Claire's condition. He asked Audrey, "What should we do? Remember, I told Claire during a hypothetical conversation that we would take in all of her children if she passed away." Audrey simply replied, "We take in her children." "Don't you want to pray about it or think about it overnight?" Patrick asked. "No," Audrey said, "I will feel the same way tomorrow. We can pray about it, but we already know what to do." Two months later, in January of 2011, Claire passed away and left her four children in the care of Audrey and Patrick.
In the last four years, Audrey and Patrick have also welcomed two biological children. Their iPhones contain photo after photo of their large, nontraditional family. They laugh about stories like reactions when their tall African-American teenager calls Patrick and Audrey "Mom and Dad" in department stores. Life has been unexpected, but they describe themselves as confident in God's plan. When asked how prepared she felt facing all the changes, Audrey replies, "I figured that if God thought we could raise all these kids, He would provide."
As of December 2015, Audrey continues to practice in the Houston office of Weil Gotshal & Manges, focusing on patent litigation. Patrick recently left the Lanier Law Firm after being named a Texas Rising Star three years in a row. His new firm, O'Hara Law Firm, specializes in helping victims of mesothelioma and catastrophic injury. Audrey and Patrick are succeeding as lawyers and their family is prospering. It is impossible to say if the O'Hara/Maness family has reached capacity – personally or professionally.
--story by Jessie Fahy, with Tom Inkel