Monday, July 14, 2008

From "hard knocks" to Harvard

A station agent for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad Company, George William McCue was only 37 years old when he passed away (cause yet unknown to me) in 1923. His wife Margaret, age 36, was left to support herself and her five young children. The children, two boys and three girls ages four to ten years old, must have found it hard to understand the sudden loss of their father.

The eldest, George Roger McCue, was now the "man of the family" at age ten. I grew up hearing stories of how he helped to support his family at a very young age. I don't remember too many of the details, but delivering newspapers may have been one of the jobs that he took on to help support his family in their time of need.

At the time of George W. McCue's death, the family was living in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Soon thereafter, Margaret moved herself and her children back home to live with her mother and sister in Quincy, where they remained for the rest of their childhoods. Census and other records show this family of women breadwinners working hard to make a living. Their resourcefulness and support for eachother surely got them through the trying years of the Great Depression. Margaret sometimes worked as a bookkeeper, a job that she had held before her marriage to George. Her sister Betty worked as a seamstress. Their mother, Catherine, may have performed many of the household tasks and also helped with the children.

When I asked George Roger McCue about his ancestors many years ago, he didn't remember the names of his grandfathers or his other grandmother, but his grandmother Catherine Tierney's name was still very much present in his memory. Growing up within the same household as their grandmother and Aunt Betty, the children must have felt like they had three mothers.

George, the young breadwinner helping to earn money for his family, went on to be the first of the McCues and Tierneys to attend college. The grandson of an Irish famine survivor who had immigrated to America, George went on to earn a Masters in Business Administration from Harvard University, class of 1936. Over the course of many years, he had a successful career in marketing and management for the W.T. Grant Company, a retail department store chain, retiring from the company as regional manager.

George Roger McCue

(Photograph privately held by the author)

I often wonder how the loss of George's father at such as young age and the hard work he performed to help support his family might have helped to shape his character and work ethic. It is amazing how the childhoods of one generation of a family can be such a stark contrast to those of even the very next generation.

My hope is that the descendants of George William and Margaret McCue will take the time to look back and remember the struggles of their forebears, and be reminded of the true joy of the blessed essentials of our lives that we so often take for granted today.

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