Joan Morris McNally, 96 years old, died in Billings on December 25th, Christmas morning, surrounded by family. She was born in New York City in 1922 to John and Edna Morris and grew up in Jackson Heights. She was a 1944 graduate of Mount Holyoke College (MHC) and worked as a writer in a New York advertising agency before meeting and marrying the love of her life, John McNally. They lived in Western Massachusetts and enjoyed 37 years of marriage until his death in l987. She and John had four children and 8 grandchildren.
But this outline captures little about this remarkable woman. She grew up in a family of music, sang in a trio with her sisters (sometimes in spite of pleas from various children), and was the last remaining founding member of the Mount Holyoke Victory Eights (V8s), the oldest continuing all-female collegiate acapella group in the country. Along with raising her own exceptional children (yes, we are writing this) she and John opened their hearts and our home to many others, including our French sister Danielle Labadie; our high school exchange brother Greg Allison, and our brother Minh Nguyen, a Vietnamese boat refugee. Mom founded and was the self-appointed President for Life of the Young Swimmers of America (YSA), a tongue-in-cheek youth ‘movement’ that went viral before the internet existed and persists to this day.
Mom was an incredibly loving, curious, funny and generous person, and our home was always full of people, conversation, discussion (and, yes, disagreement) and warmth. And she was an amazing writer. She wrote a weekly column, ‘Pieces of Myself’ that was published in the Springfield (Massachusetts) Journal for over 25 years. She contributed to various area newspapers and several national publications and volunteered with numerous writing programs for children and adults alike. She also self-published several illustrated collections of her poetry and prose.
Joan moved to Montana permanently in 2014 to be close to her daughters. She had spent a lot of time here over the years, exploring many of the wild and scenic Montana landscapes and enjoying soaks at Chico. In spite of dealing with dementia during the last few years, our Mom stayed active and upbeat and remained a constant joy. She had a rich and wonderful life, and there are no words to describe how much she will be missed.
Joan has been cremated and will be buried with her beloved John back in New England at a later date. She is survived by her sister Betty Morris (NYC) and brother John Morris (Iowa); her four children, daughter Joan of Billings, son John and Rosina Georgiadis of Boston, daughter Mary and Monte Smith of Billings, son Ned of Farmington New Mexico and six grandchildren – Julia and Katelyn Harris, Katherine McNally, and Sean and Mary McNally. She was preceded in death by her parents; husband John McNally; grandson Sean Harris and granddaughter Laura Harris; sister and brother-in-law Edna and Alex Smith; and sister-in law Pat Morris.
We are thankful for the wonderful care and kindness Mom received at Tendernest over the last several years, and the support from Riverstone Hospice. We are also grateful to the many friends who opened their hearts and homes to Mom, and to the special people who helped keep her vibrant, engaged, and smiling, including Jason at the YMCA and Juliet Kelnhofer.
There will not be a local service. If desired, donations in her memory can be made to Riverstone Hospice, Billings YMCA, or the John E. and Joan M. McNally fund at the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, 333 Bridge Street, Springfield MA 01103.