A beloved fixture in downtown Frederick’s restaurant community died Wednesday after being treated for flu-related symptoms at Frederick Memorial Hospital, family and friends said.
Hospital spokeswoman Melissa Lambdin confirmed that an adult patient died at Frederick Memorial Hospital this week while being treated for the flu. Lambdin did not release or confirm the patient’s name, but friends identified her as Colleen Magrann Morin, a well-known and much-loved bartender and de facto manager at Firestone’s Culinary Tavern.
Morin, 41, was the “heart and soul” of the local restaurant industry and a beloved face in downtown Frederick, where she lived with her husband, Casey, said Joan Rambo, a fellow bartender who worked with Casey at Guido’s bar on North Market Street.
While friends knew that Morin had been sick with the flu for at least a week, the news of her death on Wednesday came as a complete shock to the community, said Logan Hunter, a longtime friend and general manager at Cafe Nola.
“All we really heard as far as the details is that she had had the flu for the past couple weeks,” Hunter said. “But we knew she was trying to take care of herself — eating right, taking her Emergen-C, all of that.”
“We were expecting good news,” said Rambo, who said that Morin was taken to the hospital by ambulance on Wednesday for her symptoms. “She was so young, so full of life. Nobody could have ever expected this.”
Flu complications among healthy adults are extremely rare, said Dr. Vipul Kella, the medical director of the FMH emergency department. Kella could not talk specifically about Morin’s case, but said that Frederick County — along with the rest of the country — has been experiencing a particularly brutal flu season driven largely by a more aggressive strain of the virus.
Roughly 20 percent of emergency room patients at FMH are coming to the hospital for flu cases or flu-related symptoms, Kella said.
“It’s not a new strain. It just happens to be more prevalent this year,” Kella said. “It’s extremely rare for healthy people to develop complications from the flu, but I can tell you this strain has come earlier, been a little bit more aggressive and has resulted in more hospitalizations for people who are particularly vulnerable.”
Federal health officials said Friday that this year’s flu season is now more intense than any since the 2009 swine flu pandemic and still getting worse, according to a report in The New York Times.
The most recent flu surveillance report from the Maryland Department of Health listed the statewide intensity of influenza-like illness as high, with widespread geographic activity.
There have been 16,949 flu-related emergency room visits across the state this season and 1,328 hospitalizations, according to the report.
While Kella urged residents to take precautions against the flu, including frequent hand-washing and getting a flu shot, he said that otherwise healthy patients should not come to the emergency room unless they experience severe symptoms, such as lethargy, shortness of breath and uncontrolled vomiting.
Otherwise, the virus is best treated at home or by a primary care doctor.
“By coming into the emergency room as a healthy adult, you’re putting more vulnerable populations, like the elderly or the very young, at risk,” Kella said.
When Rambo first heard the news of Morin’s death, she said she went straight to Guido’s, where staff members closed early to grieve and process the loss.
Oliver Lynch, another longtime friend, said he immediately headed to Firestone’s to be with Morin’s friends and co-workers. The sorrow at the restaurant was palpable, he said.
Firestone’s, where Morin had worked for about 10 years, was closed on Thursday, and the entrance to the restaurant was almost immediately covered with at least two dozen flower bouquets from customers and other community members whose lives she had touched.
“She was very much the backbone for the restaurant industry community,” Lynch said. He first met Morin about 10 years ago, when he started working at Firestone’s as an 18-year-old novice in the service world.
“The restaurant industry is very demanding, it’s very fast-paced and it’s very unforgiving, and Firestone’s is a tough place to work because they expect a certain level of performance from everyone,” Lynch said. “Colleen was like a Mother Goose figure — she was the person you could go to if you were having a stressful shift or needed to talk.”
Lynch remembered that Morin would look over him at work “like a mom getting you ready before you went out for a snowstorm.” The older employee made sure that he was prepared for his shift and had everything he needed to do his best work, Lynch said.
The same was true for Hunter, who also met Colleen around 10 years ago when he started working at Firestone’s as a food runner. Beyond her mentorship to younger employees in the service industry, she was known for her bubbly smile and cheer, he said.
“The way I’ve heard Colleen described is, nobody is perfect but she was as close as anyone was ever going to get,” Hunter said. “A lot of people also have said that she truly is like a beam of sunlight personified into a person. Her smile would light up a room.”
For members of downtown Frederick’s tight-knit restaurant industry, visiting Morin at work was something of a ritual. Rambo and Hunter said that it was a Sunday night tradition for restaurant workers to end their shifts and head to Firestone’s, where Colleen was always working the bar.
She was also known for the Facebook posts she made to promote Firestone’s little-known Sunday happy hour, Rambo said. The posts generally featured her face superimposed on to a famous movie scene, along with her co-workers’, and a long quote from the film.
Morin loved ’80s movies the most, according to Hunter, but the posts became something that the entire community — movie fans or not — looked forward to.
“They were just hilarious,” Rambo said. “She was hilarious. Just warm and goofy and funny. And really, she was a good example of how we should treat one another and how we should care about one another.”
Morin was also loved by her customers at Firestone’s, who often treated her as a cross between a counselor and best friend, Rambo said. Blessed with an attention to detail, Morin could remember minute details about people — the names of partners, children, or even a beloved pet — and bring them up whenever a friend, customer or co-worker came by to talk.
“She just made you feel accepted and loved and cherished,” Rambo said. “You always felt like she was paying attention to you.”
Even with customers who behaved badly, Hunter added, Morin was a hit.
“Even on the rare occasion when she had to cut someone off or kick them out, they would almost thank her for it,” he said.
The love between Morin and Casey, a major force in her life, was also a privilege to witness, Rambo said. Guido’s was flooded with bouquets from customers and friends who knew the couple, and the bar will donate a portion of its proceeds on Friday and Saturday night to Casey and other family members, said owner David Demory.
Cafe Nola is also hosting a silent auction on Sunday to benefit Morin’s family, according to Hunter. All proceeds from the auction, and half of all bar sales from 7 p.m. to closing will go directly to family members, he said.
For friends and co-workers, supporting Morin’s husband and family was just one way to honor her memory.
“It’s basically just a way for people to do something productive,” said Lynch, who organized the auction. “It’s a good way for the community to show how much they loved her. Because she was probably one of the most well-liked, genuine people I’ve ever met in my life. You can get a drink anywhere, but you could only get Colleen at Firestone’s.”