Her family and friends struggle to describe how a woman could have had such an impact on so many people in such a short life.

“It’s unusual to go through elementary school, middle school, high school and college and never have a bad word said about a child. Only praise. It was like she was some sort of angel. I think she was that good,” said her father, Daniel Desmond of Portland.

Elizabeth McKee died Saturday in New York City from a brain aneurysm. She was 28.

Mrs. McKee was in New York to attend her father-in-law’s funeral.

She leaves behind her husband, Mike McKee, and their 2-year-old daughter, Fallon. Her husband said his wife was six months pregnant.

“I am comforted by the smiles I see on my daughter’s face,” he said.

Mrs. McKee was born in Portland and graduated from Portland High School in 2001.

She was a standout athlete at Portland High, competing in track, soccer and softball.

Her oldest brother, Jim Desmond, who now lives in Uganda, said his sister was very popular. She was president of her junior and senior classes.

“She had a lot of charisma,” he said.

She was particularly good at giving inspirational speeches during her school years, said another brother, Sean Desmond of Ashburn, Va. “She had this ability to touch your heart and make you cry,” he said.

Last year, after the death of their 95-year-old grandmother, Mrs. McKee wrote a letter – she was unable to attend the funeral – in which she told her family that she was proud of her grandmother living such a long life and expressed hope that she could live as long so that she could be blessed with grandchildren, her brother recalled.

Her best friend, Emily McCarthy of Portland, said they met when they were sixth-graders at Lyman Moore Middle School.

“When we were younger, she fell in love with Michael Jackson and The Jackson 5,” McCarthy said.

She taught herself how to dance like Jackson and got so good at imitating him that she performed at high school assemblies, pep rallies and proms.

McCarthy also remembers how well her friend got along with her teachers. They inspired her to pursue a teaching career.

“We always joked around because she was very dedicated about going to school and having a good future. She always wanted to do her best,” McCarthy said.

Mrs. McKee attended the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., where she majored in history and English. She also excelled in track and cross country.

“I don’t think she ever missed a day of running,” said her brother Jim.

She met her husband at Holy Cross. After graduating in 2005, they got married and moved to Arizona, where they became teachers at the Orme School.

Established in 1929, the Orme School is on a 30,000-acre property in Arizona. It is surrounded by a working cattle ranch. A boarding and day school, Orme has about 120 students in kindergarten through grade 12.

“The entire Orme community mourns the loss of our beloved faculty member Liz McKee,” a post on the school website says.

Mike McKee is the school’s director of admissions. Mrs. McKee was its track coach.

School officials said in the message that faculty members and students can make donations to the Fallon Fund, a college fund for Mrs. McKee’s daughter, by going to www.elizabethmckee.com.

Mrs. McKee enjoyed running five to seven miles each morning with the family’s dogs. She would return to tell stories about her encounters with coyotes and rattlesnakes.

The couple also took up horseback riding, though Mrs. McKee went only two or three times a year. He rode every weekend.

Her husband said he plans to return to the Southwest to live and teach at the Orme School.

“It’s what Liz would want for our daughter, that sense of community,” he said.

Her family will miss her.

“It is really hard to put into words,” said her brother Jim, “but when she came into a room, she brightened it.”

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: dhoey@pressherald.com