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Long IslandObituaries

LI librarian, health activist Helen H. McCollough dies

When Helen Harris McCollough grew up on the prairies of Nebraska and Wyoming in the early 1900s, people in those parts were still living the hardscrabble existence of life on the frontier, her daughter said.

That unspoiled upbringing instilled a resilience in McCollough that lasted throughout her life, through a career as a Long Island librarian and a health advocate, her daughter said.

McCollough died Feb. 5 in her sleep in South Setauket. She was 93.

"She was a very unusual woman shaped by growing up in an environment that required her to be resilient," said Kimberly Thurler, of Norfolk, Mass., noting that her mother grew up in a house without indoor plumbing and bathed in a copper tub in the kitchen. "She had to make her way in life, and as a result she was not afraid to speak up for herself or others."

McCollough, who was born in 1917, earned a full scholarship to the University of Wyoming. Still, after her father's store went bankrupt during the Great Depression, McCollough had to work to earn her room and board through school, Thurler said.

It was at the university that she met her husband, Albert W. McCollough. Within a few years, the young couple had moved to the Bronx so that Albert could pursue his career as a journalist, first at United Press International, and later at Newsweek magazine, where he ultimately became senior editor and chief of the copy desk, Thurler said.

After a few years, the pair moved to East Meadow to raise their two daughters, Thurler said. Later, McCollough made the decision to go back to work, becoming an audiovisual librarian at the East Meadow Public Library. She held that job for about 20 years, her daughter said.

But her interest in health never waned, and in the 1970s, she became a fierce and very early anti-smoking advocate, her daughter said. McCollough, who moved with her family to Huntington in 1977, worked with the Group Against Smoking Pollution Inc., or GASP, to pass legislation to limit smoking in public places in Suffolk in the 1980s. The county law later became a model for similar laws statewide, according to press reports from that time.

"She was a real advocate against smoking and how it affected the lungs," said Loretta Kelleher, a reference librarian at East Meadow Public Library who knew the McColloughs. "To adhere to that consistent belief when there were not a lot of other people agreeing with her was a remarkable thing."

McCollough also is survived by daughter Marian Siek of Southampton, Pa.; sister Maxine Hale, of Cut Bank, Mont.; brother Robert Harris, of Renton, Wash.; and two grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren. Her husband died in 2009. Donations in her memory may be made to Action for Smoking and Health.

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