Deirdre Irene Dunn McMahon, known as Dee after her marriage, was born in old St. Vincent's Hospital on Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles on April 10, 1924. This is the hospital where her mother, Irene M. Dunn, later worked as an MD. She was baptized at St. Paul Church on Washington Blvd in LA. Her father, Frank G. Dunn, was like Irene a native of upstate New York, and worked as a lawyer in private practice until his early passing from a stroke in 1948. Deirdre had 2 older siblings: Frank Jr. and Audrey, both born at home in Duluth, MN before the family moved to Los Angeles in 1923. Within a year of her birth the family moved to 1120 Dunsmuir Ave in Los Angeles, just off the Miracle Mile in Central LA, where they lived until 1945.
Deirdre attended Cathedral Chapel Elementary School, Immaculate Heart High School, and UCLA. Her best friend in childhood was her neighbor, Marian Cooke. School was easy for Deirdre, winning a scholarship to Immaculate Heart High School on condition that she attend UCLA to maintain the IHHS accreditation in the state university system. She started courses in nursing, and joined Sigma Kappa sorority. However, three months after starting school, war broke out, and conditions on campus changed immediately. Classes were cut, transportation was rationed, and male faculty & students left campus. She was able to attend some classes part time and in summer, and also worked part time selling gloves at Sears, and also as a companion and chauffer for an elderly woman who had her own car.
After earning her associate degree, she went to work full time, as jobs were plentiful during the war, and her skills were in demand. She briefly attended secretarial school to master the basics, then went to work for the Army Air Force in LA, working to maintain spare parts inventory and base locations for B-25 airplanes stationed in the Pacific. She later transferred to the Navy and typed purchase contracts, then on her 20th birthday she enlisted in the Marine Corps Women's Reserve. She was called to duty in July, and after boot camp at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, she was assigned to work at the Headquarters Marine Corps, Navy Annex, Arlington, Virginia, until her discharge in 1946.
She described her time in the military as a very positive experience, not only for the satisfaction it brought her as a contributor to the war effort, but also for the opportunity to travel and make lifelong friends. While in the service, she visited relatives in New York, made frequent trips to New York City, and took her first airplane flight from Washington DC to Burbank, CA in a DC-3 – 12 hours and 6 stops along the way.
After returning home to California, Deirdre returned to UCLA, where she became active in the campus Newman Club, the Catholic college organization. It was at the club that she met her future husband Robert F. McMahon, a recent transplant to California from Queens, New York. They were engaged in 1948 and married in February of 1949. Deirdre continued at UCLA until she earned a Secondary Teaching Credential in Life Science. However, teaching jobs for women were scarce during the postwar period, so she worked as a bookkeeper, until she fell ill during her pregnancy with her first child, Maureen, who was stillborn in 1950. Though doctors told her that she should not try to have more children, Deirdre and Robert put their faith in God, and ultimately welcomed 4 boys into their lives – Robert G. in 1952, Gregory F. in 1953, James J. in 1955 and Dennis P. in 1957.
Deirdre stayed home with the boys while Robert worked a series of jobs in corporate finance. The family lived at turns in Los Angeles, Palos Verdes Estates, Claremont, Pomona, and ultimately settled in East Long Beach, in El Dorado Park Estates, in November of 1964. Deirdre shared her love of travel and exploring with her sons, taking them on trips to New York City by train in 1959, then by car to Seattle in 1962 for the World's Fair, and to Mammoth Lakes and San Jose in 1967 for the marriage of her niece Gina. Shorter trips included destinations such as San Diego, Santa Barbara, Anza Borrego, and the local mountains and beaches. Plus there were many visits to her extended Dunn and McMahon family members living in Southern California.
Wherever they lived, Deirdre was active in the local parish and at the school, first at Our Lady of the Assumption in Claremont, then St. Joseph's in Long Beach. Local volunteer work led to regional positions of leadership in the Women's Club, Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, the regional Congress for Religious Education, the Area Pastoral Council, Archdiocesan Bicentennial Project, and Evangelization Committee.
In addition to volunteer work for the Catholic Church, Deirdre ran a small stamp & coin business from home, then studied for her insurance license to help Robert with his work. She was also occupied taking care of her increasingly ailing mother, and her brother-in law Curtis, spending many hours taking them to the doctors and helping the deal with a variety of health problems. After the boys were grown and moved out, and her mother's passing in 1978, she went back to school to polish her accounting skills, then took a job at LeRoy Enterprises (later HBR Manufacturing) in Los Alamitos in 1981, where she worked as a bookkeeper until her retirement in 1990.
Robert and Deirdre were a very popular and involved couple, perfectly complimentary in may ways – he a conservative Republican, she a liberal Democrat, both very bright, educated, opinionated, and full of life and humor. Though Robert delighted in goading liberal relatives into friendly but heated arguments during family gatherings, Deirdre employed a strategy of quiet non-engagement that easily blunted Robert's bombast, resulting in an ongoing peace of equals.
After Robert's passing in 1988, Deirdre wound down her work career and began her serious study and scholarly documentation of her family history. Besides being a loving husband and a good provider who left Deirdre with the means to live independently, Robert had been an avid collector. Deirdre worked for over a year to catalog and dispose of the various collections, saving selected sentimental items along with pictures, letters, and other documents of historical note. She combined these with a library of similar documents, letters, postcards and narratives collected from her parents. With her cousin Margaret Dunn, she travelled to Syracuse and Oxford, New York, meeting with and interviewing many relatives, and visiting churches, historical and genealogical societies to gather and validate data.
She also began attending classes and workshops on genealogy, learning the proper documentation and recording formats, and building a list of resources. She then acquired a Macintosh computer in 1991 with a library-compliant genealogy database program, in which she maintained data on the vital statistics and associated documents she had been collecting. She visited the local Mormon libraries to gather the limited data that was available on-line at the time, then traveled to the main Mormon libraries in Mesa Arizona and Salt Lake City Utah. She made return trips to New York, and began her extended narratives about her relatives.
In July of 1990 she sold the family home in East Long Beach to her son Jim and his wife Lynnette, and moved into a condominium in Stoneybrook development in Long Beach near CSULB. There she continued her tradition of welcoming family home for dinner every Thursday night. These dinners started in the early 80's so that she and Robert could stay involved in the lives of their sons and the increasing number of grandchildren. She also continued her travels to gather family history, including 4 trips to Ireland in the 1990s, accompanied by daughter-in-law Lynnette in 1993, daughter-in-law Susan in 1994, son Robert in 1995, and son Jim in 1997, along with several more trips to New York.
The result of her diligence and enterprise is an ever-expanding Family History, encompassing over 30 albums of pedigree charts, pictures, certificates, census data, journals, letters and hundreds more historical documents and artifacts. These hard copy volumes are also fully documented on-line at Ancestry.com.
She accompanied each branch of the pedigree chart with a delightful narrative relating the lives and events of the family members, capturing the essences of the hundreds of source documents, interviews and recollections into an engaging and readable story. She was working on additional material up until the time of her passing.
Deirdre raised her family, volunteered for the Catholic Church, worked to earn spending money, and engaged in her extended scholarly genealogic effort, all in the face of ongoing and often serious medical conditions. She inherited the morbid hypertension that led to the early passings of her father and brother, and was faced with life threatening toxemia with each pregnancy, which caused the stillbirth of her first child, Maureen. She was able to defeat the toxemia and give birth to her 4 sons, but she was heavily medicated for her hypertension for the rest of her life. She endured several major surgeries, including a hysterectomy in her 40s, gall bladder in her 50s, ovarian tumors in her 60's, and two hip replacements and a pacemaker in her 70's and 80s.
Throughout her time at Stoneybrook, she would continue to get out and visit friends and family, driving to Oxnard to visit Robert and his family, and attended choir shows, school events and family gatherings, often bringing her friend Ethel Allured with her. Her son Greg also lives in Stoneybrook, and after Deirdre gave up her car around 2001, Greg or other family and friends would come get her.
As her health continued to deteriorate, she gave up her much loved condominium in Stoneybrook and moved into the Bixby Knolls Towers in 2004, a managed care facility in Long Beach where her mother Irene lived for some years in the 1980s. At BKT, she had meals provided, regular housekeeping and someone to check in on her every day, while still maintaining her privacy and comfort. As was her lifelong habit, she made many new friends, and became active on committees and boards, and continued to be involved with her family and the Catholic church.
At BKT, she had a simple and comfortable apartment on the 12th floor with a magnificent view of Los Angeles. There she worked on her computer, stayed sharp with Sudoku and crossword puzzles, read extensively, and corresponded with her family and genealogy buffs she met on line. She was a welcome member of the BKT Scrabble group and enjoyed many hours playing with friends.
As she entered her late 80s, her hip replacements and pacemaker allowed her to live more comfortably with much reduced pain and modified medication, but gradually her kidneys began to fail. She often had swelling in her legs and shortness of breath, and coughs and colds lasted longer and took more out of her. Earlier this year was diagnosed with a failing aortic heart valve. When medicine failed to improve her condition, she entered Long Beach Memorial Hospital for an angiogram, which discovered blockage in a cardiac artery and confirmed the failed aortic valve. A stent fixed the blockage, and an artificial valve placed via catheter repaired the valve. But despite the very best in medical care and the efforts of her outstanding doctors, the surgery and extended hospital stay was too much for her, and she passed away of pneumonia, kidney failure and cardiac arrest on Sunday, September 29, 2013.
Deirdre's life was quintessentially American – touched in turn by war, technology, travel, opportunity, religion, patriotism, politics, community and family. She worked tirelessly for her family, her church and her friends, and made the most of her opportunities to travel, expand her knowledge, and help others.
From standing at attention in her Marine uniform saluting the catafalque of FDR during his funeral procession through Washington DC in 1945, to sitting in her wheelchair at the high school show choir event in 2012; from holding in her lap one-by-one her own children, grandchildren and great grandchild, to attending hundreds of events to benefit the children and families of others; from meeting, marrying, loving and holding dear the fast-talking blue-eyed Irish Catholic boy from Queens, to walking the little hills of Monaghan to learn about the lives of her ancestors and meet her Irish relatives; from wrangling four active boys as they grew out of their youthful excesses, to teaching them by example how to deal with the challenges and hardships of life with dignity, optimism, humor, and love. Rest In Peace, Deirdre Irene Dunn McMahon – job well done.
She is survived by her 4 sons – Robert, Gregory, James and Dennis; two daughters-in-law Susan and Lynnette, 5 grandchildren Robert, Elizabeth, Laura, Ian and Catherine, and one great-grandson Donato. Funeral Mass will be held at St. Cornelius Catholic Church, 5500 E. Wardlow Road, Long Beach, on Wednesday, October 9 at 10:30 AM., with interment to follow at All Souls Cemetery, where she will rest for eternity next to her beloved husband Bob,. Reception to follow at the McMahon home, 3491 N. El Dorado Drive, Long Beach CA .