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If there are any typos or grammatical errors in this obituary, Mom will haunt me. She will likely do so by printing this page, circling the mistakes, adding exclamation points, and mailing it to me in an envelope beautifully addressed with her perfect teacher's handwriting.
I miss her, so it's you're move now, Mom.*
Mary had a notorious "teacher face" so stern it terrified her two adult children, but made her grandson laugh. A graduate of Bridgewater State College, she was a teacher for 35 years, retiring in 2001 from Newton Public Schools. In retirement, Mary remained a zippy little spitfire who bragged about being the fastest cashier at Donelan's Market in Wayland.
Mary lived life quickly and efficiently. She met her husband Frank in June 1966 on Cape Cod, was engaged by September, and married in July 1967. By 1970, they had two kids and owned a two-family home. Both from Irish Catholic families, Frank and Mary shared a lifetime of holding hands at Sunday masses, boisterous holidays filled with adults arguing about politics and kids complaining about eating their vegetables, family trips and reunions in Ireland, and quiet weeks in Mashpee nearly every summer. It seemed like they were a family the day they met.
She loved her older brother Kevin, a character in his own right, with whom she often traveled and reminisced about childhood in the small town Whitman, MA. Kevin helped Mary pass algebra class and loaned her money for her first car, a beloved 1965 Plymouth Barracuda in ice blue. As kids, they "played outside until the streetlights came on," even in winter, when their bikes were traded for sleds and ice skating on the pond behind their house. Her love for snow and winter never faded.
Mary had many enduring traits. Without fail, she teared up every time her adult children were leaving after a visit. When her doctor said her kidney stones were calcium deposits from eating too much Brigham's ice cream, Mary took the health scare to heart and switched to peanut M&M's. Her grandson Andrew always knew big bags of M&Ms could be found in Grammy's kitchen drawers, cabinets, and failing that, in her sock drawer.
One of the greatest joys of her life was her grandson Andrew, her eyes often brimmed with pride watching him grow into the kind man, supportive husband, and hardworking veteran he is today.
Many people remember Mary for her ability to consume incredible amounts of junk food and remain such a tiny little person. She was like a hummingbird. Her frequent cleaning frenzies were fueled almost entirely by sugar. It's easy to picture her at her kitchen table, eating Dunkin' Donuts or Entenmann's Danish, sipping reheated coffee, with her cigarettes and ashtray neatly stacked nearby. Without Mary around, we expect a surplus of candy corn this Halloween (the good kind with chocolate), egg nog at Christmas, and Peeps next Easter.
As a point of pride, Mary's home was spotless. The bronzed baby shoes of her firstborn Patrick never accumulated dust, the German beer stein she lugged around eleven European countries in a backpack the summer of 1965 has never chipped, and the novelty school bus frame filled with her grandson's yearly class pictures was dutifully Windexed. No matter how much her daughter teased her about it, she laundered, ironed and starched all her curtains on a strict schedule. Her neighbors all waved as she carefully trimmed hedges to the exact "right height" and weeded the fragrant Lily of the Valley that she loved.
Every year, Mary insisted her daughter call in the middle of the night to watch the finish of the Iditarod. Technology frustrated her, so Eileen remotely controlled Mary's computer to stream the glitchy live feed from Nome, Alaska. Many hours were spent on cold March nights, wrapped in an afghan watching the snowy excitement build until a dog team finally emerged from the darkness to win the race.
She loved all things Alaskan and traveled there several times, once to watch the start of the Iditarod in person. At Cabot Elementary School in Newton, MA, she taught her second graders all about mushing and even made the local news when she got a sled dog team to visit the school in 2001. She died holding a stuffed husky dog.
Death notice follows.
Mary Eileen (McGrath) Burke, 80, of Natick, MA, died on Thursday, October 5, 2023 from COPD and Alzheimer's disease. Born in Quincy, MA, she was the wife of the late Francis G. Burke, daughter of the late Philip and Ella (Kelleher) McGrath of Whitman, MA, and sister of the late Kevin McGrath and Maureen Dinn.
Mary is survived by son Patrick S. Burke and his wife Laura, daughter Eileen M. Burke, grandson Andrew B. Burke and his wife Alida, sister-in-law Mary Sue McGrath, nephew William McGrath, and great-nephew Camron McGrath.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Thursday, October 12, 2023 at 10 AM at St. Patrick's Church, 44 E. Central St., Natick, MA and burial at St. Patrick's Cemetery, Pond St., Natick. Arrangements by John Everett & Sons Funeral Home; guest book at everettfuneral.com. Instead of flowers, consider donating to 'The August Fund for Alaska's Racing Dogs' at theaugustfund.com.
*That erroneous "you're" was painful to type. She taught me too well.
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