The June 3 obituary notice that recorded the death of Annie Mary Donnellan Coakley failed adequately to identify this remarkable lady.
Mrs. Coakley was the once well-known Mary Donnellan who served for many years in the home of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and who was on friendly terms with Franklin Roosevelt, Felix Frankfurter, Harold Laski, Louis D. Brandeis, Charles Evans Hughes and the series of Holmes's clerks beginning with Tommy Corcoran and ending with Jim Rowe. So much of a fixture was she that Emmett Lavery created a part for a "Mary" in "The Magnificent Yankee," his play about Justice Holmes. Although her name was Annie, she was called by her second name because there was already a cook named Annie in the kitchen when she arrived.
Born in Ballinlough, County Roscommon, Ireland, Mary came to Washington and trained for a while to be a nurse at the Gallinger Hospital, but left before finishing the course and went to work in the Holmes household at 1720 "Eye" Street, in 1926, the same year that Tommy Corcoran became the judge's secretary. She began as a serving maid, and her first appearance was inauspicious since she spilled a dish of scrambled eggs in the lap of her distinguished employer. Imperturbable and sympathetic, he immediately went upstairs, changed his coat and trousers, and returned without a word of complaint to enjoy the second helping.
Mary rose in responsibility as time passed and became a friend and close associate of Fanny Holmes in the management of the household. Mrs. Holmes was in her declining years and died after a fall in 1929 at the age of 88, but, with great foresight, she trained Mary to understand the crotchets, recreations, professional needs and physical requirements of Holmes so that she could take charge of the establishment when Fanny was no longer there.
Upon Fanny's death, Mary did indeed take charge, quelled incipient revolt among her fellow staff members and provided efficient management of the household. More important, she offered loving care for the last six years of Holmes's life. She watched him like a hawk, traveling to Beverly Farms, Mass., for the summer with his "harem" of retainers, surreptitiously supporting him by holding the back of his coat as he stood on his front steps bidding Walter Lippmann farewell, and setting the formal table and presiding over the service of the meal on grand occasions such as the dinner for Sir Frederick and Lady Pollock. She developed a warm regard for the young secretaries who adored Holmes, and a definite antipathy for Charles Evans Hughes who, as chief justice, came one Sunday morning to tell the old man that he had to resign from the court.
Her care was not limited to his physical needs, but when he had contracted pneumonia, "the old man's disease," and was sinking slowly to his death, Mary prayed for him and, at an opportune moment without regard for his prior christening at King's Chapel in 1841, sprinkled water over his head, baptizing him with the hope of speeding his entry in- to a heaven whose existence he doubted. Of all the words spoken on the day the old soldier was buried in Arlington Cemetery, none were more fitting than those uttered by Mary to Jim Rowe. The rain was pelting down, drenching the president and beating upon the flag that covered the coffin. The mourners were huddled, their shoulders hunched up in discomfort. Mary looked at the casket and leaned toward Rowe. "Soldiers don't mind the rain," she said.
After Holmes's death, Mary returned to Ireland, married and became the mother of three sons and daughters. All but one son came back to the States in 1952. Of her 15 grandchildren, two athletic Landon graduates are at Georgetown Law School and Brown University respectively.
Mary's life was full of incident and achievement. In her way, she personified the triumph of the American way.