Michael Terrence McCartney (born October 26, 1942), died on May 24, 2021 after complications following a last attempt to fix what had been going wrong with his heart. Those who knew him likely would know that over the years he had numerous health problems that could very well have gone bad. Somehow—Irish luck?—he always beat the odds. He would say he never believed he would live past 60, that he would die young. And here he was, showing up and fighting the good fight until his last breath at age 78. His life was long by anyone’s standards, and no one was more shocked at this than he was.
Mike, or Terry as he was known by anyone from earlier in his life, was the son of an Irish immigrant father and a mother whose family hailed from County Cork. He looked every bit as Irish as his name suggested. In his later years, gray hair shaved low, blue eyes shining, droopy lids drooping, he came to be mistaken quite frequently for Anthony Hopkins. He would humor folks with a little “I ate his liver, with a nice Chianti.”
Anyway, the first thing you should know about Dad is he loved a good obituary.
Dad was loved by dogs and kids. Period. No better test of a person. He loved his 9 grandchildren, loved to be with them. He was known to lay down on the floor just to make eye contact and connect with one special grandson with disabilities, when the boy was a baby. His grandchildren adored him. And the sloppiest of doggie kisses were bestowed on Pop-Pop at every visit. Surely, he has been greeted with love, on his passing, from Homer, Brody, Mooka, Kramer, and Seamus, who have been up in heaven waiting for him.
He could make anyone laugh. He had a penchant for dirty jokes that only became more pronounced as he aged, with inhibitions waning and filters diminishing. But even the clean jokes were delivered with impeccable timing. Making him laugh was never hard, as he saw the humor in so much of life. This is a legacy he passed down to us kids—we can and do make each other laugh anytime we are together.
Dad was a creative and dedicated practical joker. There were years-long, back-and-forth, thoughtfully-planned, perfectly-timed, prop-driven jokes that would be played on him and by him. He loved the planning, would show us new props he’d found, masks he’d acquired. It was not unusual to come home to random objects on our lawn, including a giant plastic duck and a mannequin wearing a Michael T. McCartney Plumbing & Heating t-shirt. Dad appreciated his partners in these efforts, no one more than his good friend, John Michota.
Dad worked hard, probably harder than most. He owned his own plumbing and heating business, and over the years would hire guys to work for him. He did his best to teach them what he knew, covered their health insurance, and cared about them as people. That said, he had no patience for people who did not work hard, so the good will only got you so far. You had to show up. Figure s#*t out. Never complain. And get the job done and done well.
He loved baseball more than just about anything. The game was part of his life from the time he was a kid and first fell in love with playing, and with his favorite teams—first, the New York Giants, and then the New York Mets. He was a right-handed pitcher who smoked many a batter during his high school years, playing for St. Mary’s in Rutherford, NJ. He earned tryouts with the Mets, Red Sox, and Pirates, and a full-ride baseball scholarship to Seton Hall. While professional baseball and college did not work out in the end, he played for some time during his years in the Air Force at Moody AFB in Valdosta, for the Valdosta Red Sox. The game ended for Mike when he injured his knee, and life took a turn towards marriage and family.
What he loved more than anything was his best girl. He married his high school sweetheart, Mary Carol Kirsch, in 1964. They were 21 years old, he was still in the service, and she had finished nursing school. Babies followed, including Michael Terrence, Jr. in 1965, Kathleen in 1966, and Meghan in 1969. After four years, Brendan arrived in 1973 and Noelle in 1974. The family lived most of that time in Rutherford, NJ, following early years in Amarillo, TX, and Lyndhurst, NJ.
Dad was strict but fair. He attended most of our athletic events, and he was especially supportive of our baseball and softball efforts, always hopeful one of us would be decent. Even Meghan, arguably the least likely among us to succeed at these sports, played for a season in the BOYS league. Took a pitch to the mouth and never quit. Later took up running. (We all tried, Dad.)
He was known in our small town as Coach Mac or maybe just Coach. For nearly 30 years, he coached the local American Legion baseball team, comprised of 16-18- year-old boys, and had a few of his players reach the big leagues. Big point of pride—for them, not so much for himself. Always humble, that guy. He finished that time as the manager of the team, devoted til the end, fundraising for the team by cooking up enormous trays of sausage and peppers and selling sandwiches during the game. His days with the game ended when he retired and finally got to live his dream of being somewhere warm and never shoveling snow again. We were gifted the well-worn snow blower when they moved south.
He and Mary Carol moved to Bluffton, SC in 2007. There they created a new home, made new friends, and enjoyed everything about the warm weather. For Dad, that meant golfing.
After baseball, and maybe watching Notre Dame football, Dad loved to play golf. He had local friends he would play with, and old friends from high school that he would meet up with each year for some rounds in Myrtle Beach. His handicap did not matter. He had this love of the game that transcended whether he played well or played poorly on a given day. He just liked to play.
Vacations in Toms River, NJ and Seaside Park, NJ were yearly events during our childhood. In the early years, he could throw us high into the air over the waves, and some of our best memories are of him just swimming in the ocean with us. That, and the donut runs he would make almost daily. When the waterslide park first opened in Seaside, he would jump right in and ride the slides with us. He would give us a small head start and then furiously try to catch us, grab our feet, and make us laugh. We swallowed a lot of water at Rainbow Rapids, just from laughing on the way down the slide. And each year, when the boardwalk beckoned, he would sit in the back of the log flume to ensure we all got doused.
He was a kid at heart. He did what he had to do to provide for his family, and he took his responsibilities seriously. But he was not terribly serious. He was playful, funny, always game for a good laugh.
He died on a Monday. All of us kids and Mom were present with him in the hospital that last night. We spent the time holding his hands, telling him how much we love him, telling him jokes, and playing his favorite music. There he was, shaking his shoulders, waving his hands, moving his feet, and bobbing his head to the music. Even his eyebrows got in on the action. Grooving to Ray Charles, The Eagles, Traveling Wilburys, Otis Redding, Johnny Cash, the Beatles, Creedence. We sang along. We said our goodbyes. We were grateful for the time we could circle around his bed and just be together.
After a year-plus of quarantine, and no contact with his family, this man with more than his share of risk factors avoided the virus, doing what he needed to do to stay safe. He and Mom were vaccinated, as were the rest of us. All we wanted was the chance to spend time together when the Covid rules lifted. As his 9-year-old granddaughter put it when she found out Pop-Pop was dying, in a tear-filled rant: “F*%king Covid!!” Dad always appreciated a well-timed, contextually appropriate curse word. Very well done, Maeve. All of our thoughts, exactly.
There is so much more about him. He loved Slim Jims. Gummy bears. He once picked out all the red gummy bears and made a special “red only” bag of bears for Noelle. He was the most generous person we have ever known. He loved Notre Dame football, as mentioned, and was lucky enough to see a game or two in person thanks to Michael. He was the absolute king of Sunday breakfast. He loved Mel Brooks. He relished taking the grandkids on rides in his golf cart, all around Sun City, looking for gators. He was disappearing to buy lottery tickets right up until the end.
In his 78 years, he did a lot of good, touched a lot of lives. He taught us so much, and the basic tenet was to be good to others. If you are wondering about a way to honor his memory, please consider a random act of kindness or a donation to your favorite charity. He would love that. That, and a really good laugh.
He is predeceased by his parents, William and Rita McCartney, his brother, Joseph McCartney, and his sister Maureen Dabeck. He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Mary Carol (Kirsch) McCartney, his children, Michael McCartney (Lori), Kathleen Christensen (Niels), Meghan Hathaway (Brent), Brendan McCartney (Megan), and Noelle McCartney. He leaves behind 9 grandchildren, Ivey McCartney, Anna-Leigh McCartney, Will Christensen, Emma Christensen, Sean Christensen, Ellie Hathaway, Rosalie Hathaway, Maeve McCartney, and Eamonn McCartney. He will be missed by our family dogs, Liffey, Dixie, Robbie, Toby Keith, Tess, and Clarke. He is survived by nieces, nephews, and cousins, as well as five sisters-in-law, and one brother-in-law.
A celebration of his life is being planned for later in the summer in the Bluffton, SC area. Dad did not want much fuss, nor did he want a funeral. Cremation is being handled by Sauls Funeral Home in Bluffton.
Our family would like to thank the home-health nurses and physical therapists from Kindred Home Care, as well as the medical staff at Memorial Hospital in Savannah, GA, who provided excellent care during Dad’s final weeks. Special thanks to the ones who gave us the time we so desperately needed to be together. While there could never be enough time, those last hours were precious indeed.
To send flowers to Michael's family, please visit our floral store.