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Isabelle, Bill McMahon were good friends first

August 10, 2008|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Isabelle Ellis McMahon, who died July 29 at the age of 77. Her obituary was published in The Herald-Mail on July 30.

WILLIAMSPORT - In the small hamlet of Alfred, N.Y., friendship is serious business - just ask Bill McMahon.

When he moved to the United States from Canada as a young boy, Bill became acquainted with Isabelle Anne Ellis, who lived just down the street.

That friendship blossomed and Bill and Isabelle became a couple - first in high school, then college, and later marrying in 1952.

"Mom and dad always joked they were the only two Catholic families in town so they were destined to marry," said daughter Cheryl Anderson by e-mail from her Virginia home.

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Bill said Isabelle's sorority house was next to the McMahon home in Alfred and his bedroom even faced her room. "I had field phones so I could talk to her," he said, noting that he still has those phones.

Truth to tell though, Bill confessed there was another girl in his life, albeit briefly. "I was 'engaged' to the principal's daughter when we were in the fifth grade," Bill said. "I even gave her a ring."

After that relationship ended, Bill said, he learned that girl and Isabelle were in the same sorority and she actually gave Bill's ring to Isabelle.

"We are friends for life," Bill said of the other woman.

In the early days of their marriage, Bill was in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War while Isabelle was teaching school.

"She made $2,400 a year teaching all the math and business courses, and then Spanish," Bill said.

Isabelle even took charge of the cheerleaders for that meager sum.

"Mom always dressed well but was very frugal," Cheryl said. She shopped at L'Aiglon in Hagerstown, only considering dresses that were $5 and under.

"She had her hair done once a week and slept carefully to keep the style," Cheryl said.

Back from the service, Bill was employed in law enforcement and government service while Isabelle taught school and held down the home front.

As a family, they would undertake a project together on the weekends. Once the project was done, Cheryl said, they went fishing or swimming or watched TV together.

"I retired in 1976 when I was 45 years old," Bill said. "Isabelle taught a couple of more years."

In the following years, Bill and Isabelle bought more houses and fixed them up, either to rent or to sell. "Then we built this place," Bill said, referring to McMahon's Mill Restaurant and Campground as well as their nearby home along the Potomac River in Williamsport.

During Hurricane Agnes in 1972, the river flooded the snack bar and the pavilion. For several days, the family had to take a boat from the house to get to the road, Cheryl said.

In 2000, the restaurant was turned into the American Heritage Museum.

Daughter Sharon McMahon said her mother helped her with her math courses when she was working on her master's degree and living in Williamsport.

As Isabelle's health deteriorated, Sharon used her nursing experience to help care for her mother.

"I'd ride her around the property on a golf cart along with the dogs and the cats," she said.

For more than 55 years, Bill and Isabelle remained a married couple as well as fast friends. Bill believes that strong friendship was the foundation of their successful marriage that survived a hurricane, a war, children and the ups and downs of business.

Her memory failing toward the end, Isabelle still prided herself on being able to answer math and spelling questions.

"She could spell anything until the day she died," Bill said.

And more importantly, Bill said, was Isabelle's response when he'd say he loved her. "She'd say 'I love you' back to me."

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