Mary Elinor (Griffith) McNally

January 14, 1925 - January 31, 2022

01/14/1925 - 01/31/2022

We pray in thanksgiving for the life of Mary Elinor, who died on Monday, January 31, 2022, after an illness of many years. Her 97 years were a testament to her unwavering devotion to the 4 Fs: family, friends, faith, and fashion.
Mary Elinor was born in Washington, D.C., the first-born of Dorsey J. Griffith and Hilda (Bowen) Griffith, antique dealers in Georgetown. She was a proud graduate of Western High School (now Duke Ellington High School), where her many friends included Bettejane Greer (who later took the stage name Jane Greer and became the Queen of Film Noir) and Jo Fraser (who married astronaut Wally Schirra). Not surprisingly, she was voted “Best Dressed” in high school. Her love of fashion and beautiful style began at an early age; she went to modeling school and worked at two of D.C.’s best stores.
Mary Elinor left D.C. to attend Endicott, a women’s college in Beverly, Massachusetts, but left the school 18 months later when her dorm burned. While there, though, she made a lifelong friend in Angelita, a young lady from El Salvador, and at one point made a trip to that country to visit her friend. That adventure began a lifelong love of foreign travel.
By the time she returned to the D.C. area, she resumed her studies and active social life at nearby University of Maryland. There she was in both Homecoming and May Courts. A Home Economics major, she loved interior and fashion design. She fell in love with a young man at the University of Virginia, and as the saying goes, the rest is history! Even though school rivals, she and James McNally married on 3 December, 1949, and after a brief honeymoon in New York City, they went to live in France, where he honed his French language skills in preparation for a career in the Foreign Service. On that voyage, aboard the Ile de France, they met Eudora Welty and her companion, John Robinson — the first of many literary luminaries she and Jim met and came to know during their long marriage. Befriended by a wonderful Greek family in Nice, France (where her first child, daughter Emily, was born), Mary and Jim were not surprised when their friend Yolanda Terenzio became a published author and the chief B.B.C. correspondent for Greece. On many European trips in later years, they regularly visited her in London and France until her death in 2006.
While living on the Left Bank in Paris, Mary made a friend, Gabi, who took her to all the fashion shows and envied Mary’s “marriage for love” because her own marriage had been “arranged” to a much older wealthy man. Mary never complained about being poor and having to live in a “pension” with an infant; to her it was all part of a great adventure, and she recognized that hers was a marriage made in heaven.
After a year in State College, Pennsylvania, the family moved to Charleston, West Virginia, where Mary immersed herself in activities at the children’s school, in the garden club, and at St. John’s Episcopal Church, where she delighted in seeing both children confirmed. She wholeheartedly supported her husband’s involvement in local theater and literary festivals, often hosting parties and having well-known writers as overnight guests. An immaculate homemaker, she stressed cleanliness, godliness, etiquette, and kindness to everyone. Her home was open to all neighborhood children, who even as adults still remember her as the mother who threw the most creative parties and had the cleanest home around. Mary was admired for her grace, kindness, humility, giving nature, and terrific sense of humor. She maintained that sense of humor right up to her death, often even laughing in her sleep!
After moving to Norfolk in 1963, Mary became active in the Faculty Wives Club at Old Dominion College (now University, of course), serving as Vice-President. She joined the Great Bridge Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, serving as Chaplain, and participated in multiple book clubs, such as the Fortnightly Study Club and the Stern/White Book Club. In these organizations she found lifelong friends in Nancy Meissel, Bunny Morgan, Shirley Sellers, Helen Stern and Edie White. Later, she and her husband joined TORCH, which fostered further enduring friendships. Again, she opened her Larchmont and, later, Riverpointe homes to faculty, students, friends and relatives, as well as to writers associated with the O.D.U. Literary Festivals. And the couple began to extend their love of travel, history, art, and music to countries in Europe, making multiple trips to England, Ireland, France, and Italy, as well as visits to Denmark, Russia, Spain, Portugal, and Monaco.
As a devoted daughter and loving niece, Mary helped her mother and aunt move to Norfolk, where she could see to their care. Mary dedicated her life to serving others before herself. She knew she was on this earth not just to call herself a Christian, but to live out and aspire to those ideals. A long-time member and active parishioner of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Norfolk, she left her faith as a core of her legacy. And in spite of all the challenges in her life, she never lost that faith. Like her husband, a firm believer in education, she willed her body to medical science (EVMS).
Mary will be remembered for her beauty, kind temperament, and complete and utter devotion to her family. She tried to find something nice to say about everyone, to keep confidences and secrets safe, and to maintain a positive outlook. Because of her strong faith, her family has great peace in knowing that she is now resting and rejoicing in His presence.
She leaves behind a grateful family: daughter Emily (Jim) Brown in Michigan; son John in Norfolk; nephews Steven (Sara) Bernheisel in Maryland and Patrick (Barbara) Wright in Newport News; nieces Valerie (DeLoss) Dibble in Georgia and Jessica (Mark) Heinrich in Maryland; grandchildren Peter (Jennifer) and Christopher (Tara) Brown in Michigan, Amy (Mike) Cutter in Norfolk, Bowen McNally in Virginia Beach, and Catherine McNally in California; as well as ten great grandchildren. She is also survived by two special cousins: Donald Robertson in Chevy Chase and Sally Stansfield Rolfe in Texas.
One of the pioneers at Harbor’s Edge, Mary was the 13th to move there in 2006, and her husband (who was 12th) used to tease that he was among the “Dirty Dozen” while she was among the “Clean Thirteen”! They both enjoyed all the activities at Harbor’s Edge, but more importantly, they treasured the many friends they made during their years here. The family is especially grateful for the care given by Steve Panus (former social worker), Angie Holmes in the Clinic, Jeff in Maintenance, and both Rosamae Rowe and Danyell Taylor in Memory, who treated Mary as if she were their own mother. We are also grateful to caregivers Samantha Jones, Audrey Williams, and especially Mary Lafferty, who was a tireless advocate for Mary Elinor’s care and served as both a surrogate daughter and a Christian companion. We also certainly appreciate the dedication of RN Diana Clukey, Interim Hospice, and Chaplain Darren Wiskow.
Because of Covid restrictions, no services will be held at Harbor’s Edge until we can safely meet – probably in late spring or early summer. Should you wish to honor the memories of Mary and Jim McNally, the family is planning to endow a scholarship at Old Dominion University in the near future.
Visit to share expressions of sympathy. Altmeyer Funeral Home-Southside Chapel is serving the McNally family.

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Donna Koch
2 years ago

My deepest sympathy to the family of Mary McNally. I knew Jim and Mary through Old Dominion University when my husband Jim Koch was President. I so enjoyed them both and great literary discussions. Mary’s obituary is wonderful as if fills in so much of her life. She was indeed an interesting person who led a full life and was a joy to all.

Randy Taylor Lougee
2 years ago

Mary was first the wife of my facility advisor at Old Dominion College, and a dear friend when I returned to Norfolk after 25 years in the DC area. We met through the Fortnightly Study Group and other organizations. At Harbors Edge, she and Jim became fast friends of my mother and my love for them deepened over the almost 10 years they shared there. Mary returned to the “runway” as Jim returned to literary and acting pursuits. My deepest condolences go to Emily and John and other friends and family members.

Al (Althea) King
2 years ago

ODUMCA, formerly ODU Faculty Wives Club, is saddened to hear the news of Mary’s passing. Those who knew her have fond memories and describe her as a supportive friend and productive member of our organization.