Jane McMahon, a longtime resident of North Eastham, died on Oct. 9, 2022 from injuries sustained in a fall. She was 81 and had fought a lifelong battle with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, said her daughter, Ann Wood.
The Eastham Public Library reports that Jane, a resident since 1994, borrowed 2,454 books, 715 of which were renewed.
Born in Pittsfield on July 8, 1941 to the late Cornelius McMahon and Helen [Dunn] McMahon, Jane was always a great reader. As a child, she would carry piles of books home from the library.
Jane graduated from Pittsfield High School in 1959 and received a B.A. in math from Our Lady of the Elms College in Chicopee in 1963.
After graduation, she joined a few young nuns who moved to New Mexico to teach Mexican and indigenous students. They taught elementary school in a rustic adobe building to children who didn’t speak much English. She loved the experience, which turned out to be the first of many dedicated to serving others.
When she returned to Pittsfield, Jane worked at Operation Head Start and was a Title I schoolteacher. In 1967, she met Suffolk Law School student Paul Kalill at a rally for a Democratic candidate. They married six months later. In 1968, while Jane was teaching in Somerville, her son Bob was born. Two years later, while Paul was serving in Vietnam, Ann was born. Peter was born in 1973. The marriage ended in divorce some years later.
Jane opened her home in Springfield to the state’s first Vietnamese refugees, hosted foreign students, and gave refuge to teenage boys from a residential home that had burned down. She also taught her children about public service.
Ann described “a super cool mother-daughter thing we did: Jane brought me to see Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman in the House of Representatives and the first to run for president, who was speaking at Elms College. I’ll never forget it.”
Jane was the first woman president of the Center for Human Development in Springfield and a member of the Title I parents advisory council for 16 years. She was active in liberal political campaigns and was a member and Sunday school teacher at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church.
Teaching, children, and books always remained close to her heart.
She met Deb Kern while working for the 1980 U.S. Census, and the pair opened A Likely Story Children’s Bookshop in downtown Springfield. Groups of children would stop to listen to stories or meet children’s book author-illustrators. Jane made Cabbage Patch Kids quilts, and dollhouses.
Through those years of family care and public service, Jane’s muscular dystrophy progressed. “After many incorrect diagnoses, including a doctor who gave her a death sentence — ‘With three young children, I would get your affairs in order,’ one said — Jane was sent to the National Institute of Health,” Ann said.
She spent three months at the NIH, where neurologists studied her condition, but no cure was ever found. The scars left by the biopsies marked Jane’s contributions to medical research.
Jane spent every summer of her life on a bay beach in Brewster near Hopkins Cottages, where she stayed. The heat of the sun relieved some of her constant pain.
In 1994, she found a one-floor home near the bay in the woods of North Eastham. Ramps were built for her and, Ann said, “Her sons rebuilt the house so that she could have her accessible dream space.”
Jane was an active member of the Eastham Public Access Committee, and she worked for a local mortgage company. And she read a lot.
“Reading was her travel and escape into a world her body couldn’t inhabit,” Ann said. “It was the thing she loved doing most in the world.”
Jane is survived by her children, Bob and wife Kristen Kalill of Putney, Vt.; Peter and wife Kathleen Sullivan Kalill of Eastham; Ann Kalill Wood of Provincetown; her siblings, Connie and partner Kathleen McMahon of Pittsfield and Carol McMahon of Eliot, Maine; her grandchildren, Roxie Hadaway of Provincetown, Gordie Kalill of Putney, and Fox Kalill of Eastham; and many nieces, nephews and friends.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may go to Disabled American Veterans at dave.org or to smiletrain.org. A celebration of Jane’s life will be held on a date to be announced.