PORTLAND — Mary Margaret McKee worked hard to raise her three children as a single mother.

She held down several jobs to put them all through the private Catholic Cathedral School, cooking for the nuns, cleaning houses and helping schoolchildren as a crossing guard. Mrs. McKee, who died surrounded by her family Wednesday at age 91, shopped at rummage sales and made what she couldn’t buy.

“We grew up dirt poor, but I never knew it until I got to high school,” said her eldest daughter, Priscilla McKee-Meyers of Gorham.

She stood 5 feet 2 inches tall and was known for her deep dimples and love of dancing, especially the jitterbug. But her life was far from easy.

At age 5 she was struck by a Cadillac in front of her Portland home and spent the next nine months in a body cast. During World War II, she fell 30 feet at her job at a local shipyard. And after she separated from her husband, her youngest child just a few days old, she returned to the same house where she grew up and went to work.

She didn’t stop working until her mid-80s.

Mrs. McKee’s children — McKee-Meyers, daughter Mary Ellen Gordon of Westbrook and son Denis McKee of Portland — said these setbacks explained her sense of independence, stoicism and family pride.

“She never complained,” McKee-Meyers said.

Mrs. McKee was quick to share with others her strong opinions, from politics to religion, said her family.

Because she worked so much, she wasn’t around as much as her children would have liked. She could be quite strict as a parent, her daughters said.

“She got on us for manners,” McKee-Myers said.

She never smoked, drank or swore. Instead, she spoke pig Latin until her children figured it out.

“She would say things like ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph’ and ‘you better do it PDQ,’ ” McKee-Meyers said.

As a grandmother she was more relaxed, lavishing time and attention on her grandchildren, whom she enjoyed thoroughly.

“She was awesome. She took care of our kids any chance she could. She always wanted them with her,” Gordon said.

Mrs. McKee was a foster grandmother to a number of Portland families and a teacher’s aide at Jack Elementary School.

“Whenever I took her out, everyone greeted her as ‘Grammy Mary,’ ” McKee-Meyers said.

Every Sunday she cooked a big dinner, simple New England fare such as pot roast, shepherd’s pie and macaroni and cheese.

“Anybody was welcome,” Gordon said.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: [email protected]