Marie Cunniff | Passages

Marie Cunniff ... Rosie the riveter

Marie Cunniff could pass her son off as a younger brother and get away with it, crochet an afghan in record time, and at 100 make a TV interviewer blush. She was always punctual, preferring to be early to appointments in the event she could be seen early.

“Always wanting to be early, she did, however, surpass her brother Anthony, who passed at 100,” her son, Herb Cunniff, said after his mother passed away Feb. 19 at the age of 101.

Mrs. Cunniff lived in Friday Harbor from 1991 to 2001; she lived last in Fresno, Calif. Service is March 21, 1 p.m., at Mission San Fernando. Donations are preferred to St. Francis Church in Friday Harbor.

“We will all miss her care and love,” Herb Cunniff said.

There will be a lot to miss about Marie Cunniff.

Mrs. Cunniff was born Nov. 21, 1907 in Port Chester, N.Y. She and Herbert Cunniff Sr., married in 1923 in Chicago, Ill. During World War II, she was a “Rosie the Riveter,” helping to build DC4s at Douglas Aircraft in Chicago. She later worked as a nanny in Malibu, Calif., entrusted by several celebrities with the care of their children. Bryant Gumbel and Bob Newhart were among the parents who hired her.

She retired as a nanny in 1985.

She was very particular about her appearance and could lie about her age and get away with it, her son, Herb, said. “She would sometimes pass me off as her younger brother,” he said.

She moved to Friday Harbor in 1991, joining her son and his family here, and lived in the retirement apartments which later became the Best Western Friday Harbor Suites. She later lived in the Rouleau Apartments next to the San Juan Community Theatre.

On the island, she was very active in handicrafts, crocheting afghans in great number and in record time and winning many ribbons at the San Juan County Fair. “Her 10 years on the island were her greatest joy,” Herb Cunniff said.

She moved to Fresno, Calif., to live near her other son, Dan, a university professor, in 2001. On her 100th birthday in 2007, she was interviewed on a morning breakfast show on a Fresno TV station.

Mrs. Cunniff was predeceased by her husband, Herbert; two brothers and three sisters. She is survived by her sons, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

— Richard Walker