Margaret Dempsey McManus, columnist and devoted mother, dies at 89
Published 1:05 am, Friday, October 23, 2009
The McManus family (Jim only used McKay for professional purposes) moved to Westport in the early 1960s and lived there until 1982, according to son Sean McManus, president of CBS News and Sports. The couple was from Towson, Md., (just north of Baltimore) initially, and returned to Maryland after their time in Westport because they felt it was home, said Margaret's daughter, Mary. They also wanted to raise thoroughbred race horses, which they did for a number of years.
If Jim McKay was the star of the family, Margaret -- who died as a result of congestive heart failure -- was the backbone, the glue that kept everything together.
"He'd be the first to admit that nothing he acquired would have been possible without her strength at home running the household while he was traveling around the world doing what he did so well," said Sean McManus.
Margaret met her future husband in 1946 when they were both reporters for the Baltimore Evening Sun. She had earned a degree in 1942 from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, where she was editor of the school paper. Jim McKay, who made his name and fed his family through covering sports, took his future wife to a Navy football game for their first date, according to Sean.
"My mother knew nothing about sports," he said. Even so, on the way to the game, Margaret told Jim she thought the score was going to end up in a tie, 28-28.
"My father said something about the teams aren't that evenly matched," said Sean. "My mother said `It's going to be 28-28 Jim,' and that was the score of the game."
Margaret and Jim married in 1948. Not long after, Jim began appearing on Baltimore's first television broadcasts in WMAR-TV. Margaret would also get some face time, as she and her husband hosted a teen forum.
The couple would have two children, Sean and Mary. Margaret continued her love of writing while raising the children. She wrote a column profiling the biggest celebrities. Margaret would take the train into New York City to do an interview and come home and finish her work on a typewriter at the kitchen table.
There was one time when Margaret got to take her daughter, then 10 years old, on a press junket to London with Judy Garland.
"Everyone had been cautioning me to leave her alone," said Mary. "It turned out she spent most of her time talking to me and telling me all about her daughter Liza."
Margaret got along with everyone. Richard Widmark, an icon of American cinema, was a friend and comedian. Jonathan Winters used to call her up to swap stock tips, according to Mary. Margaret wrote her syndicated celebrity column for close to 30 years.
But family always came first. One time, Cary Grant's press agent invited Margaret to meet Grant over dinner. Margaret said they'd have to meet over lunch because she had to be home when her children got out of school.
The celebrities and their agents didn't mind modifying their schedules, said Sean. The typical refrain was, "You know Margaret, we wouldn't do it for anybody but you."
When the family settled in Westport, they rented a home on Roseville Road for a couple of years, then later purchased a place on Compo Parkway.
On Roseville Road, they were right across from "my parents' home," said Bill Mitchell of Mitchells of Westport. One time when a hurricane came through the neighborhood, "My father and mother had the only electricity for a week."
Jim, Margaret and the children were invited over. When Jim asked why Ed Mitchell was staying in the neighborhood under such conditions, Ed Mitchell responded, "Jim, I've always ridden out a hurricane."
The McManus and Mitchell families became close and remained close. Jim often shopped at Mitchells to pick up some nice clothing. When Bill Mitchell needed someone to speak to a sports team in Westport, he knew he could count on Jim McKay to come through. Usually, however, he had to go through Margaret.
"She was always sort of the messenger, the conduit," said Mitchell, adding, "She was, like Jim, the nicest, kindest person. They both loved Westport. They would do anything to make Westport better."
Sean said his mother loved Peter's Bridge Market. She usually shopped for the day, not for the week. She also loved to eat at Porky Manero's (Manero's) on Riverside Avenue.
Mary said her mother lived by a set of values "that she modeled for me throughout her life."
"Those values were: if you love, love fiercely; if you have an idea, follow it through; stand up for what you believe in, even if isn't popular; be a loyal friend, especially when it's difficult; and always put family first."
Margaret was a mother of two and a grandmother of three, to James, Maggie and Jackson. She was buried on the family farm, where her husband was laid to rest last year.
"They were married 58 years when my dad died," said Sean.
Did she ever have a problem with her husband's celebrity status?
"She reveled in it. She was completely selfless. She didn't mind him being the star," said Sean.