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Mary Jane (Graham) Sullivan died peacefully in Stony Brook, New York on May 5, 2023 with her daughters Suzanne, Kim, and Patty by her side. She was born in Boston, Massachusetts on New Year’s Eve, 1944 so she always knew there would be a party on her birthday. She loved to sing and dance– even from a hospital bed.
She was known by many names: Mary, Mom, Mary Jane, MJ, Grammie, Grammie Butterfly, and Grammie Crackers. No matter her name, she was a vivid, bright, and lively presence with an infectious laugh who cared deeply for her family, friends, and church communities. Her granddaughters gave her the nickname Grammie Butterfly because she would often wear colorful clothes that had butterflies and flowers on them. She loved that name, but also asked to be called Grammie Crackers since her maiden name was Graham. She made up many other nicknames for herself over time, a favorite of hers was Mommsiepoo, you never knew which one she would use when leaving a voicemail or writing a letter.
Despite many challenges including being separated from her siblings as a young child and losing her husband Bob when she was just 46 years old, she always kept a sense of humor and spirit of generosity for others. As her mental health struggles were combined with physical limitations, she moved into an assisted living home on Long Island near Kim and Suzanne in 2012. This decade has been a true gift because the supportive environment provided welcome stability for her with the opportunity to create new memories in New York while reminiscing about wonderful family times.
As a teenager, Mary Jane worked filling jelly donuts in a neighborhood bakery where Bob first asked her on a date. He worked at the Texaco across from her house but found out where she worked so that he could speak to her when her mother wasn’t around. They dated for four years and married on May 1,1965. Before having children, she worked for the New England Telephone Company—a job that she remembered fondly. When her daughters got a little older, she held a variety of part-time administrative jobs including her favorite role at the Needham Community Council. She was the quintessential Avon Lady who also acted as a babysitting agent for her girls. While selling door-to-door she’d scope out homes with small kids and tell the moms that she had teens available to sit. It worked out for everyone since her girls got gigs, families got sitters, and Mary Jane got a built-in delivery method for the Avon goods.
She was a homemaker extraordinaire who kept a spotless house that had open doors welcoming so many people—whether they were visiting for the day, attending a party or church group gathering, or living with the family for a while. We’ve been hearing from friends and neighbors who have shared warm recollections of her with us. One Sutton Road friend told us that “she was the magic of many childhood memories.” What a beautiful image.
Over the years Mary Jane was actively involved in a number of Catholic church groups, served as a Eucharistic Minister, and volunteered at the rectories of churches in her communities (after Bob’s passing, she left Needham and lived in a few Boston suburbs). Her friends from these groups, who she called the “Holy Rollers,” have been a wonderful source of connection and support.
She had the strongest will to live, laugh, and love. Even on her worst days trying to recover from a fall last year, she found joy in little things and always kept the nurses and aides laughing. She was resilient and rambunctious, sensitive and strong, goofy and generous. She’d want to give gifts to almost everyone she interacted with. While in the rehab nursing home she would circle items in magazines and catalogs that she wanted us to order for her aides or family members. She never stopped giving to others, right up until the day she died when she asked to find a gift for the custodian who was cleaning her room. Perhaps her greatest gift was humor—her ability to make others laugh and her own infectious laughter. As one of the nurses said, “She’s a pip, that one!”
She was sharp as a tack with no memory issues up until the end. Her mind was strong but her body was frail with COPD and chronic heart failure. Viral pneumonia weakened her body further and after two weeks, she went on comfort care, which gave us the opportunity to spend beautiful moments with her that we will cherish.
Mom/Mary Jane/Grammie will be missed dearly, especially by her daughters Patty (Steve) Schlossberg, Suzanne (Patrick) McGillicuddy, Kim (Richard) Perry; her granddaughters Cari Schlossberg, Sarah (Crystal) Perry Lambert, and Emily Perry; her sisters Irene (Jim Lanigan) Halstrom and Mildred (George) Buoy, many nieces, nephews, and friends. She was preceded in death by her husband Robert Sullivan, Jr. and her brother James Graham, Jr.
A tribute video for Mary Jane can be viewed online: https://youtu.be/ttvo7ED2lyM
Visitation will be held in the Eaton Funeral Home 1351 Highland Ave, Needham, on Saturday, June 10 beginning at 9:30am and concluding with a Memorial Service at 11:00am. Interment will be at St. Joseph Cemetery in West Roxbury where she will be laid to rest with her husband Bob. A reception celebrating her life will immediately follow. Family and friends are kindly invited.
She will live in our hearts forever.