Evelyn McLarney, a retired Floral Park educator remembered for her dedication to her students and for sending cards to a wide circle of family and friends for the milestones in their lives, told almost no one she had pancreatic cancer.
She explained her decision in a final note distributed by her husband, Francis, at her funeral Feb. 14 at Church of the Holy Spirit in New Hyde Park.
"I know that many of you, dearest friends, were taken by surprise by my illness and passing and will certainly have many questions as to why I chose not to speak of it," McLarney wrote. "Simply stated, I did not want you to be burdened by my own personal trial that would cause you unnecessary pain. As St. Paul has said, 'I fought the good fight.' "
McLarney was 69 when she died at Winthrop University Hospital on Feb. 7, her husband said.
She was born in the Bronx, earned her bachelor's degree in social studies at Queens College and started teaching in the Sewanhaka Central High School District in 1967.
She spent 37 years at the district, her alma mater, working as a teacher, director of student activities and eventually as assistant principal until she retired in 2004.
Her husband said she spent much of her free time traveling the world and writing letters to those she loved; she had bags full of greeting cards for every occasion and left behind hundreds after her death.
McLarney spent most her of her career at Floral Park Memorial High School, but was transferred to Sewanhaka High School two years before retirement.
Colleagues say she was innovative and caring. Instead of simply punishing misbehaving students, she called in guidance counselors and social workers to help discover root problems.
"She had a way of helping them gain more confidence," said Floral Park resident Diane Kelly, 67, who served as an assistant principal alongside McLarney.
McLarney met her husband in 1972 when he joined the school district as a foreign language teacher. She immediately won his trust and friendship, offering him sound advice as he navigated a new environment.
"I felt completely at ease with her," he said. "I could talk to her about anything."
The couple married Nov. 4, 1978. So excited were their students that they asked to be a part of the festivities; they decorated the modest reception hall and served food.
In addition to their classroom work, the couple accompanied students on out-of-state trips, hosted them for dinner and went with them to Italy for history and language lessons.
"We didn't have children of our own, but in a way we had lots of children," Francis McLarney said.
One time in the early 1980s, he said, his wife and about 30 students were stuck on the Cross Bronx Expressway for nearly two days during a snowstorm. She had students melt snow for drinking water until they could be rescued.
Dan Daly, who graduated from Floral Park Memorial in 1984, still speaks fluent Italian, crediting Francis McLarney, who taught him the language and Evelyn, who shared with him the history of the country during their trips together.
"My education from them was so incredibly memorable," he said. "I never looked at school as boring or tedious. It was an adventure."
Evelyn McLarney is also survived by four siblings and numerous cousins, nieces and nephews.