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Bridie McCann dies at 85, helped build family electrical business

Bridie McCann started working at 15 in her native Ireland, immigrated at 17 and wound up in America, where she built a new life and business with her husband John McCann. | Family photo

Bridie McCann started working at 15 in Ireland. She did hair and waited tables until she followed her fiance to America, eventually helping him build a successful electrician’s business with her organizing skills and canny judgment of people.

She and her husband John loved dancing. They were active with the Roscommon Club, an organization of people from his home county in Ireland.

“Into their 70s, on Saturday nights they would go out to the Irish dances until 1 in the morning and go to a restaurant like the Blue Angel and have breakfast with their friends and drink coffee until 3 in the morning and talk,” said their son Tom.

Her husband excelled at the Irish art of telling stories. Her tart, witty observations made their table erupt in laughter.

Every once in a while, she’d say something to keep his anecdotes on track and their departure on schedule, their son said. “She would always be the one to tell him, ‘John, will you take a breath, please?’ ”

Bridie and John McCann standing up in a wedding.
Bridie and John McCann standing up in a wedding.

Mrs. McCann, 85, died April 18 at Presence Resurrection Medical Center of complications from the flu.

She grew up “Biddy” Finn in the County Mayo hamlet of Cloontia, ancestral home of Patricia Rooney, wife of Dan Rooney, late owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Her parents, Thomas and Mary, had a small farm with cattle and chickens and a protective gander who frequently blocked her return home from school to peck at her.

“Her mother would come out and have to shoo it away,” said her son.

Like all farm children, she had many jobs, including hunting around to retrieve duck eggs.

At 15, she began working as a hairdresser’s apprentice in the nearby town of Ballaghaderreen. At 17, she immigrated to the seaside resort of Blackpool, England.

“My mother thought Blackpool was the bee’s knees,” her son said. “She worked as a waitress in nice restaurants there.”

She loved dancing in Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom, a high-rococo temple frosted with so much gold filigree, it resembles a wedding cake. She enjoyed the music of organist Reginald Dixon, who reigned for decades as the ballroom’s organist.

Bridie and John McCann. | Supplied Photo
Bridie and John McCann. | Supplied Photo

While home for Christmas in 1953, she went to a dance at St. Mary’s Hall in Ballaghaderreen, where she met John McCann, a native of Frenchpark in County Roscommon.

“My dad said he fell in love almost immediately. He saw her flowing, wavy black hair and had to go meet her,” their son said. “They hit it off and danced all night.”

That evening, “My mother and her girlfriends made a bet they would try to get a boy with a car to drive them home. My dad had a car, but, at the end of the night, he had to drive his uncle home,” said their son. “She had to bike back.”

They continued seeing each other in England, where he drove a doubledecker bus in Manchester. He immigrated to Chicago in 1957, and she followed him a year later. While he waited, friends reported “he never stopped talking about his beautiful girlfriend on the other side of the ocean who was coming to join him,” their son said. They got married in 1959 at St. Adrian’s Church in Marquette Park.

Mrs. McCann waitressed at the Franklin House on the South Side and at Math Igler’s, 1629 W. Melrose, with its motto “Home of the Singing Waiters/They Sing — They Serve.”

Young Bridie McCann. | Family photo
Young Bridie McCann. | Family photo

The McCanns lived in Jefferson Park before settling in Park Ridge. When her mother lost her sight to glaucoma in her 50s, Mrs. McCann brought her to America to live with her family, said their daughter Helen Loftus.

After her husband opened his electrical business in 1970, “She did a lot of stuff without which the business would never have gotten off the ground, answering the phone, taking inventory, organizing things,” their son said. “She was a very sharp woman and a very keen judge of character.”

Mrs. McCann screened the tenants for her husband’s apartment buildings. “She was always right,” Helen Loftus said. “She was better than a credit check.”

She enjoyed the music of Johnny Cash, Coldplay, Elvis, the Beatles and Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz.” She also liked the Irish country singer known as Big Tom.

In addition to her husband, son and daughter, she is survived by her sister Mary Kate Forkin and four grandchildren. Services have been held.

Mrs. McCann’s children knew they had to call her everyday, or she’d start to worry they had been kidnapped — or worse.

“You’ll understand when you have kids of your own,” she’d tell them.

As she was dying in the hospital, “One of the last things she said to me was, ‘Call me when you get home,’ ” her son said in his eulogy. “I would love to have one more call to hear her voice again.”

Bridie McCann, her husband John and their family. | Supplied photo
Bridie McCann, her husband John and their family. | Supplied photo