Mary Keefe Lawrence
VOORHEESVILLE — Mary Keefe Lawrence grew up among 13 other siblings and finished her life, centered on her home, faith, and family, as a talented belle.
She died on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, at her Koonz Road home. She had Alzheimer’s disease and, her family believes, colon cancer. She was 92.
Growing up during the Depression, she shared a bed with several siblings. Their father, Andrew Keefe, was a performing musician and comedian who died when Mrs. Lawrence was just 4 years old. She attended Albany High School, but stopped in 10th grade. With a widowed mother, she earned money taking care of a boy, whose mother was away at work.
Born in Albany, on April 26, 1921, she had lived for the past 60 years in the home that she and her late husband, Robert, had built with their own hands.
“He lost his home in the Great Depression,” Roberta Lawrence said of her father. “My mother never had one, but, between the two of them, they were bound and determined to make it happen for them, to make something they owned, that they weren’t in debt. And they weren't afraid to roll up their sleeves and mix some concrete.”
The young couple broke down a doorway to the one-room house, formerly a garage, in order to build the rest. They had paid cash for the property, which borders the Black Creek Marsh. Mrs. Lawrence spent the rest of her life there and kept an organic garden to feed the family.
“We always had fresh bean salad,” said Ms. Lawrence. By the time the children were adults, she said, the trees had grown tall and blocked sunlight from shining on the garden. Mrs. Lawrence planted her tomatoes in a baby carriage and rolled it into the golden rays as they gradually turned across their property.
She had two daughters, Judith and Roberta, to whom she would say, “A woman can do anything a man can do, and she can have a baby,” Ms. Lawrence recalled, who was in utero as her mother painted the interior of their new home in 1958.
“I think my sister was the one who taught her husband to drive a car,” said Ms. Lawrence.
The Lawrences met roller-skating, and later enjoyed hunting and fishing together, though they were city people, their daughter said.
Still avoiding debt, they put white siding on the front of their house as they were finishing it, waiting to save money before adding more to the back.
Out of school, Mrs. Lawrence worked a series of jobs, including at the McVeigh Funeral Home and in a state laboratory. Later, both she and Mr. Lawrence worked at the Sterling Drug Company in Rensselaer, where she inspected hypodermic needles.
“We’d make jokes about how boring it was,” said Ms. Lawrence of herself and her sister at the dinner table where their parents would discuss work.
Mrs. Lawrence never had a driver’s license.
“She was afraid and my father was a perfectionist,” said Ms. Lawrence, who was taught to drive by a private instructor hired by her mother.
As she grew older and had Alzheimer’s disease for the last several years, Mrs. Lawrence was taken, by individual friends and in a bus, to enjoy an outing or a meal, singing, or dancing with the New Scotland Senior Citizens’ group.
“Susan made sure that my mother went on all these trips with the Yellow Bus and got transportation to all these events and pretty soon my mom was like the belle of the ball,” Ms. Lawrence said of Susan Kidder, the town’s outreach liaison to the group.
“My mother improved during that period, in her ability to communicate and her happiness,” said Ms. Lawrence. “Apparently, in Alzheimer’s, if you're happy, the disease actually progresses more slowly.”
A friend told Ms. Lawrence that her mother could benefit from creating art. She bought her pens, paper, and colored pencils.
“She would create these wonderful, primitive, whimsical drawings, and they're just beautiful,” her daughter said.
Some of the drawings Mrs. Lawrence made late in her life were brightly colored, with small details, like ornate earrings or bulbous medallions in a portrait, carefully reproduced to be symmetrical in the image. Ms. Lawrence recalled one drawing of a woman walking a cat. In a series, she said her mother painted faces of human and animals combined.
Mrs. Lawrence grew up in an artistic and talented family, with many siblings much older than she. The family was poor, but most of the children could play instruments by ear, and Mrs. Lawrence would sing with them.
She prayed to Catholic saints and was a faithful communicant of Christ the King Church in Guilderland. Ms. Lawrence remembered when she lost her class ring and her mother prayed to St. Anthony, the saint of lost items or people.
Mrs. Lawrence went beyond the garden and looked around the compost pile, where the ring had dropped.
“She believed God’s people took care of her, whether living or gone on to heaven,” her daughter said.
Mary Keefe Lawrence is survived by her daughters, Roberta Lawrence, of Albany, and Judith Nemier and her husband, Jack, of Voorheesville; her grandchildren, Maximilian Nemier of Albany and Anna Nemier of Voorheesville; and several nieces and nephews.
Her husband, Robert, died before her as did her siblings, Cecilia Myers, Catherine Sterling, Rose DeSanta, and Andrew Keefe.
The funeral was held Tuesday, Sept. 17, at Christ the King Church in Guilderland with arrangements by the Reilly & Son Funeral Home, of Voorheesville. Burial was in Memory’s Garden Cemetery in Colonie.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Town of New Scotland Senior Services, 2029 New Scotland Rd., Slingerlands, NY 12159.
— Marcello Iaia