Faced with an ailing husband disabled by emphysema, a handful of children in need of guidance and the prospects of living on food stamps, Margaret Donohue Gately at the age of 49 returned to the workforce. In 1972, she secured a job as a typist at the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn.
That determination continues to amaze her eldest son, Mark Donohue Gately, a former attorney.
“It just seemed impossible,” Gately, 68, said Tuesday morning. “‘How can you do this?’ She hadn’t worked since I was born in 1952. … It had to be very tough to go back to work after raising five children with the youngest two at 8 and 10. I do think back on it, and all I can think is, ‘How did she do that?’ ”
Mrs. Gately died May 27 at College Manor Assisted Living in Lutherville of undetermined causes. She was 97.
The former Margaret Elizabeth Donohue, one of four children born to John and Mary Weisner Donohue, grew up in Highlandtown. She graduated from what was once Eastern High School, an all-female public high school, and St. Michael Catholic School in Fells Point, where she grounded herself in the importance of education.
“She was forever correcting our grammar, and like my dad reading voraciously and teaching us to do the same,” former Sun reporter Gary Gately said via email.
After marrying Bernard Patrick Gately Jr. at St. Anthony’s in Baltimore in 1949, Mrs. Gately gave birth to five children in a span of 13 years. The Gatelys divorced in 1974.
Mrs. Gately managed to send all of her children to college. She loved libraries, which provided the rare oasis as she grew up during the Great Depression. So it rankled her when government officials shuttered libraries as a cost-cutting measure.
“That was an unforgivable sin,” Mark Gately recalled with a chuckle. “You starve before you close a library. … Closing a library was the ultimate. You didn’t want to be around her when she started talking about that.”
One of the perks from working for the federal government was the practice of paying for employees to pursue an education. Mrs. Gately attended Catonsville Community College and then transferred to the University of Maryland, University College, where she finished a few credits shy of a bachelor’s degree in business.
While working at the Social Security Administration, Mrs. Gately learned that a co-worker was earning more money than her. She filed an age-discrimination lawsuit and won. She retired as a systems analyst with the Healthcare Finance Administration at a GS-13 level.
Mark Gately said his mother urged her children to never settle for less.
“I don’t think I ever got a birthday card from her that didn’t say, ‘Reach for the stars,’ ” he said. “The one thing she instilled in us was that you’re not better than anybody else, but don’t ever think you’re less than anybody else. She didn’t care what their wealth was, what their education was.”
Maeve Donohue Gately recalled her grandmother scolding her because she was crying after graduating from middle school. (“I’ll give you something to cry about,” she recalled her grandmother saying.)
“She was uncompromising,” Maeve Gately said in remarks she prepared for her grandmother’s funeral at Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Baltimore on Monday. “She never demurred, never apologized, never stayed in the background like women of her time were expected to do. I went to an all-girls school and was raised by parents who never told me I should expect or aspire to anything less than the men around me. But when I really think about what made me a strong woman, a woman who expects, who demands fair treatment and her place in the world, a big part of that identity must come from my grandmother.”
Gary Gately said his mother did not mince words with her family members, chiding them at times with sayings such as “You act like your elevator doesn’t go all the way up,” or “You could drive Christ crazy.”
But Mrs. Gately loved to love her family, her son said.
“She laughed, you laughed with her,” he wrote. “But you cried, she always hurt even more than you and told you, ‘Trust in God,’ and begged St. Anthony to intercede.”
Both Gary and Maeve Gately fondly remember Mrs. Gately cooking up crabcakes and fresh coleslaw in the kitchen while singing. David Gately said he enjoyed lunch every Thursday with his mother at area diners. When she could no longer venture to the restaurants, he brought lunch to her.
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“The simplest lunch of a cheeseburger, fries and a Coke brought her joy,” said Mr. Gately, a Loyola Maryland 1994 Hall of Fame inductee who still ranks fourth in the school’s men’s basketball history in scoring (1,704 points) and third in field goals made (745). “When I departed, she would watch me until I disappeared from sight. … Simple things made her happy.”
Mrs. Gately earned the nickname “Moose” from her children after saying, “I’m tough and hearty, hearty like a moose.” Every Christmas, she wore a white sweatshirt with the words “Merry Christmoose” in red and green and a picture of a moose.
“She was not one who took herself seriously,” Mark Gately said. “She had no problem with laughing or making fun of things.”
Mrs. Gately referred to herself as MDG1, her son Mark as MDG2, and her granddaughter Maeve as MDG3.
“When my grandmother wrote me cards, she would address them ‘MDG3’ and sign them ‘MDG1,’” Maeve Gately wrote. “She was the matriarch in the truest sense. Not the female leader of her family, just the leader of her family.”
Mrs. Gately is survived by sons Mark Donohue Gately, Patrick Joseph Gately, Gary Michael Gately and David Ryan Gately, all of Baltimore; daughter Mary Gately Bodley of Catonsville; and 11 grandchildren.