Mary Helen McKeaney

December 03, 1940 - January 08, 2024


Obituary For Mary Helen McKeaney

Mary McKeaney died January 8, 2024, in Raleigh. She was 83 years old.

Mary Helen was born in Queens, New York on December 3, 1940, the oldest child of Mary and Franklin Richardson. “May-May,” or later, “Mayme,” engaged in childhood shenanigans with her younger brother Billy. They attended P.S. 41 in Bayside and enjoyed going to the beach at Fire Island. They welcomed their younger sister Nancy when Mary was nine years old. Having a baby sister didn’t prevent Mary and Billy from continuing their fun; including the time they snuck down to the kitchen during their parents’ dinner party and stole slices of cake off the ends of their mother’s homemade Swiss roll, replacing the cherries on top closer and closer together with each slice.

Growing up in New York allowed Mary to see great theater which she loved all her life. On Broadway, Mary saw Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker. Mary also loved her time at summer camp in the Adirondack mountains.

After high school graduation, Mary attended Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, and later transferred to Russel Sage College in Troy, New York. (Reports of Mary being “kicked out” of Goucher can’t be confirmed.) Mary praised the benefits of attending a women’s college which included not only being able to speak freely in classes but also the ability to attend those classes wearing pajamas under your raincoat. Mary majored in psychology. When she announced this choice of major at home to her parents, her chemical engineer father famously said, “What the hell is that?”

After obtaining her degree, Mary worked for the New York State Department of Education writing the Regents Examinations. She married and moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where her daughter Mary Beth was born. After a brief time in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Tuckahoe, New York, Mary and her family moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, where Mary’s second daughter Katie was born.

It was while Mary was living on Quail Hollow Drive that she met her best friend Lyla. Mary and Lyla were both fantastic homemakers and hostesses but they also shared the notable distinction of being “college girls.” Members of the neighborhood “Gourmet Club” could count on Mary to serve a great meal and also to bring up womens’ rights after dinner. Mary impressed upon her daughters the importance of always having women friends; her friendship with Lyla was a tremendous model.

Mary taught her daughters how to be great homemakers and hostesses, but she also taught them to “always remember the name of the author!” She shared her love of reading and literature with her daughters, as well as an appreciation for a good adaptation, especially if it was Masterpiece Theater. Mary taught her daughters how to set a table, how to recite a poem, and how to dress for travel on an airplane. Mary also passed on to her daughters a love for the Episcopal Church.

Mary held several jobs in North Carolina including bank teller, salesperson at Ivey’s department store, manager of Bell’s Linen Closet, and salesperson for Brame office products. In the 1980s, Mary was President of the North Carolina chapter of the newly formed National Association of Professional Saleswomen.

Mary married her second husband Bill in 1990 and they moved to New Jersey before relocating to Jacksonville, Florida. In Florida, Mary and Bill owned their own business designing office interiors. In 2007, Mary and Bill came back to North Carolina to live closer to Mary’s four grandchildren. During the summers when her grandchildren were still little enough to build sandcastles, Mary rented “Big Yellow” to make sure the whole family could have a beach week together. Mary and Bill enjoyed taking cruises and went almost everywhere a cruise ship can go. One notable cruise they took was a culinary cruise hosted by Mary’s celebrity crush, Jacques Pépin.

On land, Mary generously used her hostessing prowess for holiday meals and elaborate family dinners. If you didn’t love the lemon semifreddo she was serving for dessert, you could always find three to four flavors of Klondike bars in the freezer. Mary continued her love of theater by participating in high-intensity family charades and later, the Preston Pointe Players.

Mary is preceded in death by her parents Mary and Franklin, by her brother Billy, by her husband Bill, and by her beloved Aunt Helen. Mary is survived by her sister Nancy, by her cousins Janie and Alex, by her daughter Mary Beth Walden and her husband Michael Walden, by her daughter Katie Bricio and her husband Frank Bricio, and by her four grandchildren: Ben Bricio, Mary Kate Walden, Julia Walden, and Eddie Bricio.


28 Jan

Memorial Service

02:00 PM

St. Paul's Episcopal Church 221 Union St Cary, NC 27511 Get Directions »
by Obituary Assistant

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  • April 13, 2024

    May you rest in peace, Mary Helen. You are missed. I'm glad we got to hang out when I visited last. Thank you for your kindnesses to my family and me, never to be forgotten. You Made a difference in the lives around you. God bless you always. 🙏

  • January 20, 2024

    To Mary Helen's daughters and grandchildren from her sister Nancy. Growing up, Mary as the eldest was often given the role of Baby Sitter to me and our brother Billy. One night when I was about five, and Billy eleven (Mary would have been 13), we two younger were "home alone." Mary was at a Girl Scout meeting (or so we were told). Evidently we fell asleep with the gas still on on the stove. My sister was not able to awaken us to open the door, but managed to climb in a living room window and save us from asphxiation. Thus I owe her my very life! Another significant memory I have is of her taking me into Manhattan for my 12th birthday. We went to see Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds". Upon leaving the theatre we clung to each other for dear life as pigeons surrounded us. Sadly for me both my brother and sister left home when I was only nine years old for college (my brother having skipped grades). I wish I could have had their comraderie and guidance during my adolescence. My brother told me once that we had "a rich childhood" and this was certainly true. My friends thought our family and household were "exotic". Looking back this was true as my mother was very artistic in multiple areas and my father "scientific". Mary Helen lived a rich life with many friends, travels and skills which she passed on to her family. I miss her. May she rest in peace always. I miss May May. Your Aunt Nancy, last of the "Bayside Five."

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