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Jeanne McDonagh, whose life was marked by her commitment to work, infectious sense of humor, and a gift for forging friendships died in St. Camillus Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Stamford CT on February 7, 2014 after a long illness. She was 93.
The fourth daughter of Joseph B. McDonagh and Loretta Hopkins McDonagh, she was born in Linden, NJ on May 17, 1920. She often said she learned everything early, including how to smoke, drink and drive.
At the age of 24 Jeanne enlisted in the WAVES, or "Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service," thus forming part of a remarkable group of women who served in the wartime Navy in the effort to defeat the Axis forces. Until 1946 she worked the graveyard shift in a code room in lower Manhattan as a member of a secret communications unit.
Thereafter, she served as staff to the House Administration Committee for her aunt, Rep. Mary T. Norton from 1949 until the latter's retirement in 1951.
Speaking to a gathering of EMILY's List donors in 2007, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quoted a letter she received from McDonagh about her aunt's example and wishing Pelosi "the wisdom to know the right things to do and the courage and fortitude to carry them out."
In the 1950s, McDonagh returned to New York City and worked a succession of jobs in the fashion industry, including several years as assistant beauty editor at Glamour magazine, and subsequently as an assistant buyer at Lord & Taylor and later other department stores. In this period of her life, Jeanne's innate sense of style came to the fore.
In the 1980's she moved to Greenwich and worked for 17 years with the military broker Dunham & Smith, rising to the position of as executive assistant to the chair. She lived in Stamford for decades where she visited frequently with her close circle of friends, and her adoring nieces and nephews.
In 1999 and no longer challenged by her job, she went to work for Rep. Christopher Shays, who hired her within days of receiving her resume, despite their political differences. When interviewed about her work for the Republican congressman, McDonagh, a lifelong Democrat, explained that Shays was "… a statesman, not a politician."
Until her retirement in 2002, she was the only permanent staff member at the congressman's Stamford office and handled outreach to constituents, as well as his calendar.
"I'm certainly not going to go home and play bridge," McDonagh told a reporter upon retiring at age 82, which to her family was an ironic statement, given her demonstrated prowess at the game.
She is survived by her nieces Susan Murphy, Jennifer Whitaker, Nancy Ross and Sally Glew and nephews Michael Seymour, Anthony Seymour, Edmund Burke, Joseph Burke and Gregory Burke. She was adored by 25 surviving grand nieces and nephews, and 20 great nieces and nephews.
A funeral procession will leave the Nicholas F. Cognetta Funeral Home & Crematory, 104 Myrtle Avenue, Stamford, CT on Thursday February 13, 2014 at 9:10AM and proceed to the Chapel of St. Catherine of Sienna RC Church, 4 Riverside Ave, Riverside, CT for a Mass of Christian Burial to take place at 10:00AM. Interment will take place the following day, Friday February 14, 2014 at 11:00AM at Calvary Cemetery, Middle Village Queens, NY. Family and friends may call at the funeral home on Wednesday February 12, 2014 from 6:00 to 8:00PM.
To leave online condolences, please visit www.cognetta.com.
Nicholas F. Cognetta Funeral Home & Crematory
104 Myrtle Avenue Stamford, CT 06902
Published in StamfordAdvocate on Feb. 11, 2014