Katherine McCourt, who encouraged all to practice ‘acceptance and gratitude,’ dies at 102
How do you live to 102? For Katherine McCourt, the answer lay in those virtues that seem so simple, yet are so difficult to practice — acceptance and forgiveness, gratitude and knowing when to move on.
“She’d say, ‘Just remember, no matter how bad your day is or your year is, someone else has it worse. No matter how hard it is, just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward,’ ” said her son David McCourt, who is chief executive and founder of Granahan McCourt Capital.
Born in the kitchen of her family’s home, Mrs. McCourt would years later have a more secure life, but to the end she remained a daughter of Irish immigrants who never failed to recognize the role of good luck, and the need for hard work.
When she died Thursday in her Londonderry, N.H., home, she had only completely given up driving the year before. To the end she remained thankful for all goodness that came her way.
“She was thanking the nurses — that gratitude,” said her son Frank McCourt, who is chairman and chief executive of McCourt Global and former owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. “It’s a lesson for everyone. It gets you to 102 with a great mind and a great spirit and a real sense of the beauty of life.”
Mrs. McCourt “had the opportunity to enjoy the finer things in life, but she didn’t need it,” said her daughter Kathleen McCourt of Evanston, Ill., a professor emerita at Loyola University of Chicago. “She appreciated it, but she also appreciated when my brother would go to Dunkin’ Donuts for her.”
Retaining her sharp memory and clarity of thought as she passed the century mark, Mrs. McCourt “remembered the birthdays of all her kids, her grandkids, all their spouses,” Kathleen said.
“She marveled that she was an only child, yet she ended up having this big family. I think she was a little bit in awe of how that all happened,” Kathleen added. “She accepted all of her children with all of their differences, and she rolled with that just fine. Everybody took a different path in life and she loved it all.”
Born in 1917, Katherine M. Broderick was the only child of John Broderick and Catherine Feeney — immigrants from County Galway in Ireland who didn’t meet until they were in the United States. Catherine arrived alone, as a teenager.
“I can’t imagine even today a 17-year-old girl getting on that boat, all crushed together, and to have the guts to go to America — home of the free,” Mrs. McCourt said in January, in a video interview that was part of a Statue of Liberty Museum fund-raiser.
“One thing I can remember my mother saying, it was something like, ‘It’s true,’ as they came into the harbor,” she added. “That really was true — the statue meant America to her. She was out of all that poverty and maybe there was hope.”
Mrs. McCourt’s entry into the world was as humble as her mother’s arrival from Ireland. “I was born in Everett — I was born on the kitchen table,” she said in the video.
Her father was a conductor for what was would become the Metropolitan Transit Authority, and a bartender at the Tennis & Racquet Club in Boston. Her mother was a homemaker.
After growing up in Watertown and graduating from Watertown High School in 1935, Mrs. McCourt attended the Bryant and Stratton school, from which she received a certificate for secretarial work the following year.
“Then she went and interviewed for a job at two places — John Hancock Co. and John McCourt Co.,” her son Frank said. “John McCourt Co. offered her 10 cents more an hour, and she took that job.”
The decision was life-changing. She and Frank H. McCourt, a grandson of the company’s founder, fell in love. They planned to marry in 1942, but the Army sent him to Europe during World War II, so they married on Christmas Day, 1941, just before he left.
Mr. McCourt rose to become an Army major, a Bronze Star recipient, and chairman of his family’s company. He died in 1989, at 72.
“He just adored her — they were like honeymooners,” Kathleen said.
“Anyone who knew my mother and father would have seen a fairy tale love story,” said David, who lives in Newmarket-on-Fergus, in County Clare, Ireland. “They loved each other like people struggle to do these days. It was fundamental in the way I was brought up to see the love and respect they had for each other.”
Mrs. McCourt, meanwhile, “went from being an only child to the mother of seven” — along with 19 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren, said her son Frank, who lives in Palm Beach, Fla.
“I was an only child and I had seven beautiful children,” she said in the video interview. “And I think I’m the one that is most blessed by having this American dream answered — with my family that’s a good family and they all work hard and they took advantage of all these wonderful opportunities. Pretty nice to have your dreams come true.”
In addition to her daughter Kathleen, her sons Frank and David, and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Mrs. McCourt leaves two other daughters, Maureen Sikes of East Granby, Conn., and Joan of Wilton, Conn.; and another son, Terence of Concord. Her son Richard died in 2015.
A funeral Mass will said at 11 a.m. Tuesday in St. Patrick Church in Watertown.
Mrs. McCourt believed that “you should just live your life by putting the joy in other people’s lives and you’ll do fine,” David said.
“She saw famine and feast, she saw war and peace, she saw recessions and booms, she saw births and death – she saw it all,” Frank said.
And that, her children said, might be why she brought such perspective to guiding family and friends through rough patches.
One time Frank sought advice on how she managed to not let life become overwhelming: “I said, ‘Mom, how do you do it?’ And she did not hesitate. She said ‘Frankie, it’s very simple. Two words: ‘acceptance, gratitude.’ That was her life’s philosophy.”
His mother, he added, “didn’t obsess or fret or get upset over things she could not control. She focused instead on what she could control, and worked hard at that to make the world better. But there was no pettiness, there was no bitterness. She was very forgiving.”
And when her children, or their children, or their children’s children faced adversity, she would say “ ‘remember, it’s just one foot in front of the other,’ ” Frank recalled.
“She put one foot in front of the other for 102 years and created a masterpiece. It’s amazing, actually.”