It was a Sunday morning in the late 1960s and Mary McNeil awoke in bed, the smell of homemade pasta sauce wafting through the air.
One of her mother — Rose McNeil’s — many meals, it made her look forward to the family dinner that would come later as it did every Sunday in the McNeil household.
Rose McNeil, 95, died Monday of natural causes in her Cortland home. Her children and husband described her as the family matriarch, a brilliant woman who handled finances frugally, was selfless and endlessly devoted to her family.
As a child, Mary McNeil said, the home on Crestwood Court was rich, not in material worth — that hadn’t come yet — but in love. The six McNeil children knew their parents, Rose and Dan McNeil loved them and because of this they wanted for nothing.
“We had our health, happiness, family and love,” Mary McNeil said Wednesday. “If we had that, we were the richest people in the world.”
Now the siblings carry memories like the smells of their mother’s home-cooked meals or the house full of their many friends, their mom happy to feed all of them.
They have memories of their parents’ love for one another that they say endured throughout the 64-year marriage.
“It was incredible,” said David McNeil, a son.
He has a picture in his mind: His mother and father walking hand in hand down Main Street in Cortland away from him. He’s not sure now if it’s an actual photograph or just one his mind has created because it captures them so well.
“I carry that image everywhere because it says so much about their unity,” he said.
Rose McNeil — a hairdresser and bookkeeper before she married Dan McNeil in 1954 and became a homemaker — wasn’t involved in a long list of civic organizations, David Mc- Neil said Wednesday.
She was happiest at home, making meals for her family, being there for the children when they got home from school and seeing to the family affairs while Dan McNeil worked. It was because of her dependable support system that Dan McNeil was able to do so well for himself in business and that their children also went on to succeed in their careers, her family said.
Dan McNeil attributes the happy marriage largely to the fact Rose was willing to let go of differences.
Mary and David McNeil remember never being allowed to go to bed angry.
“We had to sort it out,” Mary McNeil said.
Outside of the home, if the siblings had a disagreement, they had to present a united front, added David McNeil.
Rose McNeil’s marriage to Dan McNeil was inspirational, said friend Mariko Evans, who got to know the McNeils because Dan McNeil was her swim coach.
She would often bring her children to their pool to swim in recent years.
Evans has fond memories of Rose holding her youngest, Amelia, and happily playing with her.
And she recalls the love that she saw between the McNeils.
“Her and Dan are amazing, so devoted to one another,” Evans said. “I hope my marriage will be as beautiful as theirs as we grow older.”
Rose McNeil is survived by her husband, Dan, six children and their spouses, Daniel III and Danielle McNeil of Cortlandville, Peter and Sherry McNeil of Boca Raton, Fla., Paul McNeil and Soterios Johnson of Davis, Calif., Anne and Jeff Chambers of Selkirk, Mary McNeil of Cortlandville, David and Christine McNeil of Cortlandville; seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Calling hours are from 4 to 7 p.m. today and a funeral Mass will be 10 a.m. Friday at St. Margaret’s Church in Homer.
In lieu of flowers, expressions of sympathy may be made to St. Mary’s School in Cortland, or a charity of one’s choice. To offer condolences visit www.wright-beard.com.