A tribute to Mary Anne Whittaker
MaryAnne Whittaker sadly passed away last month after bravely battling cancer. MaryAnne Whittaker (Nee Collins) was born to Mick and Greta Collins in a one-bedroom house with a mud floor in a little place called Ballinacartin, Knocknagoshel in Kerry.
She lived there with her brothers and sisters until she was about six years of age before moving to the new family home in Cummer. During this time she attended the local school in the village where she excelled at spelling and maths. It was at this time that people noticed that she was a genuine and very hard working girl and this showed when at the age of ten or eleven helping the local farmer’s wife tend the livestock and help with the chores around the house. She would often receive a few shillings, which she would take home to her parents to help with the bills. She left primary school and went on to secondary school in the local town Abbeyfeale and at the age of 14 she decided to leave and get a job with the local politician as a housekeeper. She moved on to other jobs always bettering herself so she could bring in extra money for the family.
MaryAnne was a popular girl growing up and used to love music and on the odd occasion was able to attend the local halls to attend the dances. She would tell of 8 or 9 people in a car travelling to other village dances, as there were very few cars in the vicinity but it didn’t matter how they got there; she just loved to dance and in her opinion, ‘there was nobody like Big Tom!’
Mary could be seen after the dances still dancing and smiling, which stayed with her all her life. When she heard a nice song her hands would start to waltz, a broad smile would appear from ear to ear and she loved it when somebody took her off dancing a waltz or a jive. Once when dancing around her living room she broke her leg!
One highlight of her life was traveling and meeting all the showbands over the years and especially meeting and having a photo Daniel O’Donnell.
At the age of 17 she headed for England to meet up with her older brothers and sisters and to get a proper job. Even though she moved away she never once forgot her roots or friends she left behind. Indeed she loved nothing more than heading back to Kerry, something her adoring husband Derek had to endure over many, many years. Derek said, “If it was a choice of a foreign holiday or a stay in Kerry, Co. Kerry won nearly every time.”
MaryAnne life in Birmingham began in Handsworth where she got a job on the buses as a clippie, after two years she moved to College Road in Alum Rock and got a job at BSA where she made special and life long friends. In 1969 she met her future husband Derek on a blind date, her perfect English gentleman and an Irish Colleen (an unlikely match), but it was a match made in heaven. Her family said, “We don’t know if it was Derek’s curly hair or his rugged good looks but she saw something that she would never let go!”
In 1971 MaryAnne moved on to work in Typhoo tea and the following year Derek and MaryAnne walked down the aisle together. In 1977 the happy couple was blessed with the arrival of their first child Mariagoretti followed by Dominic, Debbie and Steven.
MaryAnne’s family were the most important thing in her life and nothing showed it more than her looking after her nine grandchildren, even when she became ill she still insisted in looking after them. From dropping them to school, feeding them, helping with their homework and showering them with love, nothing was too much and she would often be seen knitting and making all the clothes for the children. She never forgot her siblings either, from her eldest sister, Bridie down to her baby brother, Benny.
MaryAnne and Derek set up a loving home for their family and the door was always open to family and friends with a warm welcome to all who crossed the threshold. This in mind MaryAnne and Derek decided they would open up their home even more, so she became a child minder and over the next 35 years looked after numerous children all of whom took to her and regarded her as a second mom; this included some of the parents! Indeed you could often open the door at dinner time and find Maryanne dishing out her famous shepherd’s pie to kids and adults alike some around the table, some in high chairs, all helping in their own way. In fact staying close friends with the children and parents over the years, you could sum MaryAnne up in three letters: M.O.M.
She never drank or smoked; her only vice was blackcurrant jam or home made apple tart. Over the years MaryAnne built up a close and special bond with many people from all walks of life, from the clergy to parents of whose children she looked after, fellow child-minders, neighbours, teachers past and present, the list goes on… Some of these people became really special friends and if anyone had a problem and if she could help you had never to ask, MaryAnne was there.
Many people came from abroad to stay in Whittaker household for it was an open house and some mornings she could be heard calling them to get up and go to work or college. In fact some mornings she could be heard over the other side of town! If you learned nothing else from Maryanne you learned to always better yourself and push yourself to succeed. She was not a quitter. This was never more evident than when she became ill.
Another passion in Marynne’s life was her religion, devoted to her beloved church. She loved nothing more than going on pilgrimages lourdes, Rome, Knock, Krow. During her final years MaryAnne’s faith and devotion kept her strong in the belief she would somehow be cured, this kept her going. Praying to her Saints -St.Peregrine, St. Theresa, St. Martin. St. Jude, St. Anthony. She once said, ‘I am not afraid of dying,’ she was more afraid of how her family would cope. Once when she had taken her tablets but was still in pain she received holy communion at home and said she felt a lot better, got up and walked around. “There you go,” she said, “Holy Communion is better than any tablets I have taken”. This showed her true faith and belief. Her husband said, “In short we can’t sum MaryAnne up in words but we can all close our eyes and she will be there with us. We all have stories to tell and memories to treasure. The Lord now enjoys the company of a wonderful, humble, generous woman. Whilst we mourn her we are consoled in the knowledge that she suffers no more and may she Rest In Peace.”