As with many families hit by the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, the virus behind it was disastrous for the O'Brien family of West Philadelphia.
By the time Mary F. O'Brien was born in July, the flu had already killed her father, Francis, the family wage earner. He died on the train while returning home from a trip to Wildwood.
That left her mother, also named Mary, to scrape together a living as a bookkeeper and manager of several rental properties. The little girl helped, too, when she was old enough, by collecting rent from tenants up and down Ridge Avenue.
The young Mary O'Brien, who became Mary F. Keashen when she married Dan Keashen in 1942, went on to become the matriarch of a large Irish family. She was also a factory worker, federal government worker, and librarian.
She died Monday, Sept. 17, of pneumonia at St. Mary's Catholic Home in Cherry Hill. She was 100 years and two months old.
"The day she turned 100, she was ecstatic," said grandson Daniel Keashen. "She was over the moon the entire day."
Mrs. Keashen told him she attributed her long life to her love of books and a consistently good diet, including tomatoes and potatoes.
"She was the cornerstone of our family. She saw the evolution of the township she loved [Cherry Hill] and the community that cherished her over the last 65 years," he said.
Mrs. Keashen graduated from West Catholic Girls High School. During the 1930s, she worked in a factory, sewing zippers into garments.
She met Dan Keashen, a tool-and-die maker from North Philadelphia. After they married, he served as a Seabee during World War II.
In 1953, Mrs. Keashen and her husband moved to the Erlton section of Cherry Hill . They raised six children there and became founding members of Queen of Heaven Church on Marlton Pike.
Her husband died of emphysema in 1981, propelling Mrs. Keashen back into the workforce. She was employed first at the Social Security Administration office in Pennsauken and later at the Cherry Hill Library. She retired at age 80.
In retirement, she made trips to Cape May, read, spent time with family, and bought sandwiches from Chick's Deli in Cherry Hill.
"While she had some physical issues, she was never without the biweekly trip to the library to pick up new books," her grandson said. "She outread all of us, all four generations. That was her true love — and following the Phillies, and having family around her, and the odd trip to Atlantic City. She loved the slot machines."
Mrs. Keashen was able to live on her own until 18 months ago, when she moved to St. Mary's and then into hospice care. She was mentally sharp until the end.
"She was a fantastic mom," said daughter Eileen Duffy. "Family was the thing she liked the most, and family parties at her house. She loved any kind of sweets."
In addition to her grandson and daughter, she is survived by children Daniel Keashen, Maryann Schnell, Patricia Foy, Francis Keashen, and Kathleen Carlin; six grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
A viewing from 10 to 11:15 a.m. Friday, Sept. 21, at Christ Our Light Church, 402 Kings Highway N., Cherry Hill, will be followed by an 11:30 a.m. Mass of Christian Burial. Interment will be in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Cheltenham.