Claire McGeehan, 72, who taught in public schools in the Philadelphia suburbs for nearly 30 years, died Saturday, March 12 from breast cancer at her home in Media.
As a longtime teacher she was a second mom to many, said her daughter Colleen McGeehan.
“Something that made her unique was the immense amount of respect that she had for all of the young people in her life, whether they were her children, grandchildren, friends or colleagues,” she wrote in a statement released by the family. “She was a loving friend ready to offer a meal, a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine.”
Mrs. McGeehan and her late husband were both teachers, and two of their children also became teachers.
Mrs. McGeehan also worked many years to support the Media Fellowship House, which provides programs for social justice and economic empowerment, and was an officer on its board of directors.
She was “deeply committed to racial justice work in Media and Delaware County,” said the statement.
“My Mom lived a life that inspired me to service, education, and justice work,” wrote her son, Charlie McGeehan III. “She always loved to share stories and spread her love with everyone she met. Her career as an educator and activist inspired me to take up similar work.”
Claire Dowdy McGeehan was born March 16, 1949, in Richmond, Va., to Carroll Dowdy and Carrie Putney Dowdy of Cumberland, Va., where she was the eldest of three siblings.
She grew up in the segregated South at a time when the integration of schools was new and controversial, her son said.
“My mom was in one of the first desegregated classes in high school, and racial justice and social justice were always central to her,” he said.
She graduated from Cumberland High School in 1967 and attended the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., graduating in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in education.
After college, where she was involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement, Mrs. McGeehan participated in the Volunteers in Service to America, or VISTA, in Davie, Fla.
The VISTA program was founded in 1964 and placed volunteers in low-income areas in the United States to help fight poverty, much like a domestic Peace Corps. VISTA was later folded into AmeriCorps.
Mrs. McGeehan spent the first year of her teaching career in Florida, after her VISTA service. Then she moved here in 1973 to teach sixth graders at Penn Wynne Elementary in the Lower Merion School District. After working at Penn Wynne for six years, she taught at Bala Cynwyd Middle School for seven years.
She met her husband, Charlie McGeehan Jr., in the late 1970s, when both taught at Penn Wynne, her son said.
They married in 1983 and were wed for 27 years until his death in 2010.
The couple had three children, and Mrs. McGeehan stayed home to raise her three youngest children for about 12 years starting in 1986. She also had an older daughter.
In 1998, she returned to teaching, this time at Media Elementary in the Rose Tree Media School District.
In 2011, Mrs. McGeehan won the Delaware County Excellence in Teaching Award. She retired from teaching in 2013.
“It’s hard to describe the impact that I have seen my mom have on the people in her life,” her daughter said.
In her spare time, Mrs. McGeehan loved to travel and spent many summers taking trips with her college roommate, Beth Wilkinson. She also enjoyed family trips, particularly a five-week summer cross-country road trip in 2000 in a van with a camper trailer.
Her son said she was also passionate about genealogy and once traveled to Wisconsin to find out more about her family history.
She enjoyed being part of a women’s book group in Media and loved to design and bake cakes for family and friends.
For years after her own children graduated, she continued to design and make costumes for musicals at Penncrest High School.
In addition to her son and daughter, Mrs. McGeehan is survived by daughters Courtney Holt Burgan and Carrie Stolarski; three grandchildren; one brother; one sister; and many other relatives and friends.
Funeral services were held March 19.