The cause was liver cancer, said a daughter, Mary Lou Canney.
Mrs. Canney was chief of the department of religion and a counselor to students at Visitation, a Catholic school of about 500 girls in grades 9 through 12. The school described her as “devout and future-oriented, the embodiment of a joyful optimist” in a monthly newsletter. She retired in 2017.
She was the widow of John J. Canney Jr., a Marine Corps major who was killed in combat on Nov. 28, 1950, near the Chosin Reservoir, a barren and frigid area of North Korea, the ground so frozen that soldiers needed explosives to dig foxholes.
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He was executive officer of a Marine Corps battalion, and his unit came under heavy fire from attacking enemy troops as close as 20 yards.
He was posthumously awarded a Navy Cross, the highest decoration for valor in combat after the Medal of Honor.
“Without regard for his own personal safety, [he] courageously moved among the defense positions and directed the fire of his men, lending words of encouragement . . . until he was mortally wounded,” read the citation.
His remains were never found.
His wife of seven years was 29 years old at the time and the mother of their three small children. “My Mom never considered remarrying after our Dad was killed,” Mary Lou Canney wrote in an email. “I feel like she always kept him alive for us with pictures everywhere and stories [about] summers at the beach, holidays . . . trips together.”
Still classified as missing in action, John Canney was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Hattie Johnson, a civilian staffer in the military unit that monitors POW/MIA issues, said the work to identify and return Canney’s remains and those of other service members is ongoing. There will be a burial place at Arlington National Cemetery for him if his family wants, she said.
Marian Elisabeth Gallagher was born in Washington on Jan. 18, 1921. She graduated from Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School in 1938 and from Visitation’s Junior College in 1940. In 1942, she graduated from Trinity College in the District.
She married Canney in 1943 and accompanied him on Marine Corps assignments. After his death, she “had to really reflect on how she would proceed,” her daughter wrote, adding “that faith, family and friends would be her guiding focus.”
She got help and support from her sisters and parents in Washington and her husband’s family in Massachusetts, where she vacationed with her children at her husband’s family beach home in Mattapoisett.
When her last child went off to college, so did Mrs. Canney, pursuing graduate studies in theology and philosophy at Georgetown University. She joined the Visitation faculty in 1971. She introduced courses in comparative religion and bioethics, and counseled individual students on a range of issues, including drug use and pregnancy. For a time, she was an assistant to the head of the school.
She dressed impeccably, favoring suits and hats. To a student with whom she was especially pleased, she would say, “You’re a peach!”
Rarely if ever did she talk about being a widow, but there was always a silent hope for more information about her husband, family and friends said.
Survivors include three children, Mary Lou Canney and John J. Canney III, both of Washington, and Thomas Canney of Chicago; eight grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; and three great-great-grandchildren.