Bridie: She ‘reached through the crowd . . . and tapped me’

Appreciation

After 79 years of adventurous life and 55 years of marriage to the man she met at a dance in her native Ireland, Bridget Kavanagh quietly slipped away on Christmas Eve, a loss to the world but a gift to heaven.

Courtesy photos   Bridget Kavanagh, seen here in a recent family snapshot, was known to most as Bridie. Courtesy photo.
Bridget Kavanagh, seen here in a recent family snapshot, was known to most as Bridie. Courtesy photo.

Bridget, affectionately known as “Bridie,” was the wife of Edmund Kavanagh, who for some years ran a little jewelry shop in a log cabin on Main Street in the town of Washington, after earning international fame as a master craftsman in gold and silver in Dublin, London and New York. Finally reaching the end of her long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, Bridie died Dec. 24 at Inova Fairfax Hospital, with Edmund and their sole surviving son, Thighe, at her side.

The story of Bridie and Edmund Kavanagh is one of those classic love stories that Hollywood directors of the 1930s and 1940s would have loved, a romance they could have titled “A Wonderful Life.”  Bridie and Edmund, in one of those marvelous coincidences, were both born in Dublin within 10 days of each other in the Depression year of 1933. She was the oldest of seven children; he was the youngest of seven, the son of a Dublin shopkeeper.

The Depression and the World War II years shaped their difficult early lives. They met at age 19 on a September night in 1952 that Edmund remembers with crystal clarity. Edmund and his older brother Gerald went to a dance that evening at the Ballerina Ballroom. Not much of a dancer, Edmund hung back in the crowd in the packed ballroom, leaning against an arch. There were ranks of fellows in front of him as the bandleader announced the next dance would be a “ladies choice.”

“This little hand reached through the crowd and tapped me,” he remembered last week. “I looked up and couldn’t believe my eyes. She was beautiful!” It was the young Bridie, reaching past the other lads to ask the shy Edmund to dance. “We never parted from that moment,” he said.

Bridget Kavanagh in a snapshot from about four decades back. Courtesy photo.
Bridget Kavanagh in a snapshot from about four decades back. Courtesy photo.

They courted, in the manner of that restrictive age, sometimes riding together on Edmund’s motorcycle to beaches, scenic towns or parks. As Edmund honed his skills of turning gold and silver into beautiful jewelry or treasures, they planned a life together. Bridie and Edmund married on April 10, 1957 in London, where Edmund had taken a job with a with a silversmith company.

Married to a man of ambition, growing reputation and a desire for a better life, Bridie followed wherever Edmund’s career and dreams took him. They spent 14 years in London until his urge to emigrate to American propelled them to New York City in 1968. “There wasn’t a selfish bone in her body,” he said. “She was agreeable to everything. We never had an argument in our lives.”

Their New York chapter lasted nearly 30 years, with Edmund working for famous firms including Tiffany’s before he and Bridie opened their own business on Long Island. Bridie was not just a wife but a business partner. She designed jewelry to sell in their shop, greeted and served customers. “She was very sweet – everybody loved her,” he said.

Life dealt them dangers and tragedies. They survived an armed robbery of their Long Island shop by four ski-masked gunmen, and a shootout on the street near their home by a mugger. They suffered the tragic loss of one of their two sons – 17-year-old Edmund Jr. – in a fatal auto accident. Their love survived it all.

Bridie and Edmund moved to Rappahannock County in 1997 to seek a quieter life. They found peace and friendship here as both worked in the little log-cabin shop on Main Street, where Bridie sold jewelry and Edmund crafted masterpieces in gold and silver – bowls, chalices, maces, and other treasures. All seemed well up until 2004, when a new threat emerged.

Bridie had never learned to drive a car. Edmund worried that she could not cope with life here if his health failed. He tried teaching her to drive, without success. So he turned her over to a professional driver trainer. After three lessons, the trainer told Edmund that he thought something was wrong – Bridie seemed unable to process his instructions.

Visits to doctors followed, ultimately leading to a diagnosis of early Alzheimers. “From there it was all downhill,” he said. Gradually, his once-vivacious wife slipped slowly into that never-never land of memory loss we call Alzheimers. Bridie became totally dependent on Edmund, morning to night, and he became totally devoted to her comfort and care. She ceased to speak, but still she would smile shyly when greeted at Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, where Edmund would gently guide her up the aisle to receive communion.

“It was the happiest marriage I could have ever hoped for,” Edmund said on the night before her funeral mass at St. Peter’s last Friday morning. “I am so grateful to the Lord for her. We were pals. I always prayed to the Lord that He would take her before He took me, because if I had pre-deceased her, life would have been so difficult for her.”

It ended on Christmas Eve, in the season of peace and love, a fitting finale to their love story. After a choking incident that cut off oxygen to Bridie’s brain, she was put on life support in the hospital. Edmund summoned his son from South Carolina, and on Sunday they spent the day and evening saying farewell to Bridie. With no hope of recovery for her, Edmund assented to ending life support. She died at 1:04 a.m. Monday, with no sign of pain or suffering.

Bridget Kavanagh, a devout Catholic, believed in angels and saints. Some of us who know the Kavanaghs well like to think that a Christmas angel dropped down and lifted her soul to heaven. If so, she will have no trouble recognizing saints, having lived with one for so long.

In a poem titled “When You Are Old,” Irish poet William Butler Yeats foreshadowed a glimpse of Bridie and the love of her life, in these lines:

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

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About James P. Gannon 21 Articles
James P. Gannon is a retired journalist who lives near Flint Hill. In his newspaper career, he served as a reporter and bureau chief at The Wall Street Journal, as Editor of The Des Moines Register in Iowa, and as Washington Bureau Chief for the Detroit news and a columnist for the Gannett newspapers.