Dr. James J. McNally, Jr. thumbnail

Dr. James J. McNally, Jr.

September 30, 1924 - February 19, 2020

Dr. James Joseph McNally, Jr., departed this life on 19 February.  Beloved husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, and uncle, he was a retired O.D.U. professor and friend to all.

Jim was born in Washington, D.C., on 30 September 1924.  He grew up in the Ballston neighborhood of nearby Arlington, where he delivered The Washington Evening Star to hundreds of customers to help support his mother and sister.  He knew hardship and deprivation, but found solace in his family.

At Washington-Lee High School, Jim served as editor of the school newspaper and excelled at basketball and baseball, sports he continued to follow for the rest of his life.  He relished how the only World Series triumphs of Washington baseball teams formed the bookends of his life: the Senators shortly after his birth and the Nationals shortly after his last birthday.

After Pearl Harbor, Jim enlisted in the Marine Corps, dropping out of high school to serve his country.  Upon returning from service in the Philippines and China, he attended the University of Virginia on the G.I. Bill.  There he received advanced degrees in Foreign Affairs and English. He was a member of the Raven Society and the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society, and he lived on the West Range.  Always affable and popular, he was elected mayor of married student housing at Copley Hill.

Education continued to play a central role in Jim’s life.  He taught English and Literature at Penn State University, West Virginia’s Morris Harvey College (now the University of Charleston), and Old Dominion University from 1963 to 1992.

On 3 December 1949 in Arlington, Jim married the love of his life, Mary Elinor Griffith.  It wasn’t until years later that they realized they had already met as teenagers. When he came to the door to collect for his newspaper route, she told him, “Wait here, sonny, I’ll get my mother.”  In 2019 the two celebrated seventy years of marriage. Their devotion to one another has been deep and sincere. He always said the best three choices he ever made in life were to wed Mary, to agree with her to buy a waterfront home in Riverpoint, and to move to Harbor’s Edge in 2006, where they took advantage of all activities, lectures, movies, musical recitals, and trips offered.  He especially enjoyed his involvement in Poetry Sharing, Open Readers, McBride Book Club, and the Follies at Harbor’s Edge and such outside activities as Torch Club, ACLU, AAUP, ROMEOs, Feldman Concert Series, Virginia Opera, Virginia Stage Company, Little Theater of Norfolk, Stern/White Book Club, and numerous Chrysler Museum exhibitions and events.

Lifelong travelers, Mary and Jim lived in France when their daughter was born.  After their son was born two years later, they began to expose both children to art museums, concerts, libraries, plays, and travel.  They made more than six trips to Europe, including Ireland, where he maintained close relationships with his many Irish cousins. Much of the travel involved presentations he made at literary conferences in Atlanta, Detroit, Ann Arbor, St. Louis, Waco, Colorado Springs, Vancouver, Dublin, Monaco, Copenhagen, and St. Petersburg.

As a professor he also played active leadership roles in the academic world.  He served as president of the Faculty Senate of Virginia (1973-75), director of the 1980 O.D.U. Literary Festival, and president of the Poetry Society of Virginia (1989-92).  His poems appeared in the society’s anthologies for 1974, 1985, and 1993, and he received awards for both his poetry and his plays. He was known for his dedication to learning, and he wrote something creatively every day of his life — except maybe in grade school or hospital!  Throughout his life, and even in retirement, he maintained an agile mind, a sharp wit, a hearty but irreverent sense of humor, and a strong sense of compassion.

Jim’s friendships were numerous, varied, and widespread.  They always involved lively discussions of current events, politics, literature, and especially poetry and fiction.  He belonged to multiple book clubs and poetry associations, as well as political action groups. He was just as generous donating to a plethora of causes as he was spending time with shut-in friends.  In spite of physical pain (about which he seldom complained), he made every effort to attend the funerals of friends and acquaintances, saving every bulletin and program. With his indomitable will and zest for life, we all thought he would live to 100.  In keeping with his generous nature and abiding interest in learning and exploration, he has willed his body to medical science through the Virginia State Anatomical Program. His epitaph will proclaim, “He was a sweet and valiant soul!”

Celebrating his life are his wife, Mary Elinor; his children, Emily (Jim) Brown and John McNally; his five grandchildren, Amy (Mike) Cutter, Peter (Jennifer) Brown, Christopher (Tara) Brown, Bowen McNally, and Catherine McNally; ten great grandchildren: Bailey, Madison, Hannah, Carter, Beckett, and Hayden Brown; Ryan Bialkowski and Harrison Brown; and Stanton and Archer Cutter; nephews and nieces Patrick (Barbara) Wright, Valerie (Deloss) Dibble, Steven (Sara) Bernheisel, and Jessica (Mark) Heinrich and their families; and cousins Linda (Tom) Petersen, Wayne (Linda) Ralston, Patricia Connolly and Teresa Cook, and James (Mary) McNally and their children in County Monaghan, Eire.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you make memorial donations to the Harbor’s Edge Foundation, to PBS station WHRO, or to the charity of your choice.

An informal memorial celebration will be held in the Grand Hall at Harbor’s Edge (1 Colley Ave, Norfolk, Va.) on Saturday, 29 February, 1-3PM.

Service Information

Service Information

Date: Saturday, February 29, 2020

Time: 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Saturday, 29 February, 1-3PM, in the Grand Hall at Harbor’s Edge, One Colley Avenue, Norfolk, Virginia


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