By Josh Resnek
The news reported last week that a former Everett woman left $400,000 to the Parlin and Shute Libraries was more than just another headline.
The benefactor, the late Kathleen Donnelly, was powered mostly by her intellect and her heart, and her uncanny ability to save and to invest during a long life devoted to family and friends.
She recently died inside her book lined, Manhattan cooperative apartment. She also owned a book lined summer home in Ogunquit, Maine.
Books and reading were a big part of her existence.
She was described as a woman of many talents and interests until the day she died by her family and friends who adored her.
Ms. Donnelly, a lifelong devout Catholic, was 86 when she died.
“Reading was her life,” said her brother-in-law Tom Zellin, a former Everett City Councilor now living on the North Shore.
Ms. Donnelly’s bequest to the Parlin and Shute Libraries totaling $400,000, handed over to the city last week, is the largest bequest left to the library system in the city’s modern history.
Zellin told the Leader Herald when he was packing books from Donnelly’s Ogunquit summer home after her death, he was captivated by the volumes he handled.
“I recall seeing The Complete Works, by Aristotle, and works by Socrates, Locke and Emerson; Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, as well as Sense and Sensibility,” and a host of others from the pantheon of great literature, philosophy, religion, poetry and art.
Donnelly loved the theater and the arts. During a long life in modern America, she never owned a television set, according to Zellin.
She enjoyed listening to the radio, and reading the New York Times. She was a thoroughly modern woman, well read and keenly aware of what was going on in the world.
She found comfort during times of stress by sitting in a pew at an empty church to feel its calm, added Zellin.
Donnelly was born in Revere.
She was the sixth of ten children.
The family moved to Everett when she was two.
She grew up in modest circumstances on Glendale Street.
Like all her siblings, she attended the Immaculate Conception School, the Parlin Junior High School and then graduated from Everett High School in 1950.
Claire Anderson, one of Donnelly’s surviving siblings, told the Leader Herald her sister was an unusual woman, an extraordinary type of adventurer who lived her life to the fullest.
“Kay was well known and popular,” Anderson recalled. “Kay and her friends attended CYO dances sponsored by St. Therese’s Church held in Glendale Square. She had many admirers.”
She described her sister as not only having style, but as being attractive and intelligent.
“At an early age she became an independent thinker. She had no fear of taking chances,” Anderson added.
Donnelly worked a short stint for State Street Bank in Boston.
When she was 20, she became a flight attendant for American Airlines – the beginning of a 40 year career that sent her all over the world.
As a flight attendant, she always made it possible for family members to travel with her or by themselves by using her American Airlines employee discount for them.
In 1980, she received a BA degree from Fordham College in New York City, a testament to her devotion to her education which was unending throughout a lifetime.
In addition to her bequest to the Everett Public Library system, she left $200,000 to the Archdiocese of New York, $200,000 to Covenant House in New York City – aiding homeless children – and an additional donation of $200,000 to a Catholic organization, Servants of Relief For Incurable Cancer.
“She was very generous. She basically loved everyone she ever met,” said Zellin.
Donnelly was buried in Puritan Lawn Cemetery in Peabody.