KENNEBUNK – During an era when women were raising children, not running businesses, Mary McConnell was doing both.

”She really, in her day, was quite a pioneer,” said Sharon McConnell of the three restaurants her grandmother owned and operated. ”A woman in business in her day was rare. But no matter what, she just kept going, kept moving. It was a real inspiration to me — her tenacity, her spirit.”

Mrs. McConnell died Tuesday at the age of 97.

When her son came home from grade school one day and told her that he aspired to go to Springfield College just like his coach did, Mrs. McConnell told her husband they needed to find a career to finance his education. Her first foray into the restaurant business was with the Lobster Roll on Kennebunk Beach. She later opened the Sea Gull Restaurant and Marie’s Chat ‘n Chew, both in Kennebunkport.

Jim McConnell worked for his grandmother at Marie’s during his summers off from high school. He would be there to open at 5 a.m., cooking breakfast and lunch for lobstermen, town officials, other locals and some tourists too. The restaurant, which is now the site of Alisson’s Restaurant, served typical Maine fare, in large portions and affordable, he said.

”She was always there making sure (her regular customers) had been taken care of. They were like extended family,” he said.

Another grandson, Mark McConnell, said she would often feed families at her restaurant that were struggling financially, to make sure they had a decent meal.

”She was a humanitarian, a lover of people,” he said.

Operating restaurants for more than 30 years, Mrs. McConnell did the accounting, handled ordering and was on the premises most of the day. Even when Kennebunkport quieted down for the winter, she would keep her restaurant open.

”She had a work ethic like you wouldn’t believe,” her son David said, remembering his mother heading to Marie’s at 9 a.m. and working to the ”wee hours of the morning.”

Not only did she instill that work ethic in her son and his children, she shared it with local students as well. Her son said she was one of the first mentors for the Cooperative Education program at Kennebunk High School. She would take teens from the school and show them the restaurant business so they could receive academic credit and real world experience.

”Many of those people got successful jobs in restaurants and ended up with their own places,” her son said.

”She was a mover and shaker, that’s for sure,” said grandson Brian McConnell.

He remembers growing up in Connecticut and packing the car to head to Maine for the weekends. The drive would take longer than four hours because they would take coastal Route 1, but when they arrived he said his grandmother always had a pot of fish chowder ready.

”We still have some of the old aluminum pots and kettles she used in the restaurants,” he said. ”Still have them and use them.”

 

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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Each day the newsroom selects one obituary and seeks to learn more about the life of a person who has lived and worked in Maine. We look for a person who has made a mark on the community or the person’s family and friends in lasting ways.