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She was at home on three continents

Maryse McKeon, born in France and a member of the French Resistence, lived in Europe and Africa and died in the United States.

By JAY CRIDLIN
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 14, 2002


SUNSET PARK -- Not every mother can say she has given birth to four children in four countries on two continents.

But not every mother is like Maryse McKeon.

A teenage member of the French Resistance and a world-traveling wife and mother, McKeon died June 2 at age 75.

"Adventure," said her son, Roger. "She loved every minute of it."

McKeon lived in Tampa since 1971, easily the longesttime she had spent in any one place.

Born Marie-Louise de la Marnierre in 1926 in Brest, Brittany, France, Maryse McKeon moved often with her husband, Donald Francis McKeon, an American Naval officer she met during World War II.

After the war, her husband, an accountant, worked for companies such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola and Pfizer Corp. all over the globe. The family moved with him, living in France, Germany, Morocco, the Belgian Congo, Mexico and finally the United States.

"We moved every four years," said McKeon's daughter, Nora Zietz. "I'm not talking, 'We moved countries.' We moved continents, and usually languages."

McKeon was born for adventure. Her family was vehemently opposed to Nazi activity and joined the covert French Resistance in order to help rescue American and British pilots shot down over France.

"The resistance would get in touch with the family," Roger said, "and they would say, 'We have these guys. Hide them. Keep them in hiding for months, and then help them get to the coast and back to England.' "

Young Maryse and her sisters relished keeping the soldiers company. In a 2001 essay she wrote for the Air Forces Escape & Evasion Society titled Maryse: In the Role of Cinderella, McKeon reminisced on her time with the American pilots:

"The poor guys were bored," she said. "It was obvious they needed to have a little fun. We, the four girls, were ready to oblige. We didn't have to be begged to dance and flirt. Boys had become a rare commodity in Brest and our 'Yanks' were much more than boys: Only real men go to war and pilot airplanes."

As she grew older, Maryse took a more active role by distributing propaganda leaflets. "I don't know whether what I was doing actually served a purpose," she wrote, "but it made me feel very important, perhaps even indispensable."

It was during the war that she met Don, and in 1946 they were married. Their first son, Roger, was born in Paris in 1947, but was the only one of the children to be born in France.

The couple's second child, Nora, was born after the McKeons moved to Frankfurt, Germany, and their third, Patricia, came after the family moved to Morocco in 1950. In 1955, the family moved to the Belgian Congo, now known as Zaire, where their fourth child, Michael, was born.

The four children of four nations learned English before any other language, but like Maryse, everyone in the family became multilingual. Roger even became a United Nations translator.

In 1971, after years of traveling, the family moved to Tampa. "She would refuse to live anywhere else but in a very warm place, so they ended up here," Roger said.

She helped Don run an accounting and tax counseling firm, Corporate Services of Tampa, until her husband's death in 1984.

"She was born in the wrong generation," Nora said. "She should have owned her own business. A lot of courage, a lot of personality, bigger than life."

McKeon's survivors include two sons, Roger, of Long Island, N.Y., and Michael, of Tampa; two daughters, Nora Zietz, of Baltimore, and Patricia Abeyta, of Los Angeles; and six grandchildren.

A memorial service was held June 6 at Christ the King Catholic Church. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to the Catholic Church.

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