Helen Ivey, US Navy Picture

Helen Ivey: Effervescence Filled with Wondrous Adventure

Steve McKenna and Helen Ivey, May 29, 2005
Steve and Aunt Helen, May 29, 2005

I have known many wonderful people in my life, but none has been so singular and so positive (always a huge smile) as the bright, energetic soul that was Aunt Helen Ivey, the Senior Warthog. Her sudden and unexpected passing, after 91 years on this Earth, has filled my heart with extreme sadness.

Helen was not just generations ahead of her time, she created her own distinctive time on this planet, uniquely bending life around her positive karma, filling it with her intensely positive attitude and sense of wonder and exploration. (The only time I ever sensed her having any sadness was when she pondered aloud that her Christmas list, aside from family, was now down to just 5 people.) I recall her telling us, when we visited her in New York last year (She was 90.), that she just loved the adventure of traveling. She was so excited when she was saying this, her hands and little feet tamped the air and the floor in utter excitement—dancing her little jig of happiness even while seated.

And travel she did, all over the world, country after country (I’ll update this later with the exact number: dozens upon dozens). Though she remained single until she was 67*, she traveled the world to places I will certainly never get to see. Her last trip was from JFK International to Omaha, Nebraska, this past summer to visit with her family celebrating her and her sister’s 91st and 89th birthdays respectively. And yes, as always, she hopped on that plane all by herself.

Aunt Helen was remarkable. Gloria, one of her neighbors, told me that she had picked out a seniors’ care facility “for when I get old.” At 91, she sincerely didn’t consider herself old. Her youthful spirit still literally caused her body to dance her “little jig of happiness,” which I will always remember her doing. She just fully embraced joy.

Aunt Helen studied at Columbia, served in the US Navy (a cryptographer in WWII who we have reason to believe was assigned a specific Nazi spy), began journalling when she was 9 years old (1930), painted numerous paintings, and filled absolutely every single inch of her home with memorabilia that represented every joyous experience of her life (You simply can’t imagine this unless you have seen it!). She was apparently in the habit of reading, each night, from her journals from the previous year. She didn’t just live life fully, she savored every adventure. And while she lived life frugally, she was in the wonderful habit of donating to the beautiful causes to which she was deeply committed.

She passed away quietly a week ago, appearing to have fallen asleep on the sofa while watching TV. This week, despite Hurricane Sandy barreling down on the city, we gathered to celebrate her life.

Her passing has inspired me to live more positively, savor every life experience, share more freely, and create more joy and happiness. I often see her spirit in Steve, whom she named the Warthog. She dubbed me the Associate Warthog. We will always bear those titles with joy! (Though I don’t think anyone ever understood their origin.)

Normally, when someone leaves us, I feel compelled to wish that their soul rests in peace. But, for Aunt Helen, somehow I just don’t feel that is very appropriate. I can only imagine her soul continuing its joyous explorations through all eternity, not at all “resting”—that just wasn’t Helen.

Helen Ivey, US Navy Picture Helen Marie Cecilia Dooley Ivey
Enthusiastic Explorations for All Eternity
(July 26, 1921 – October 26, 2012)

*She met her husband, Richard Ivey, the love of her life, while on holiday in Spain, when he was in his seventies. They were married in 1989. Just 6 months after their marriage he was diagnosed with cancer and died shortly thereafter. Her grandson, Iain, upon discovering Helen had a $48 charge on her credit card statement (at her death), replied, with his British wit, “There just was no controlling her!”

One thought on “Helen Ivey: Effervescence Filled with Wondrous Adventure”

  1. Wonderful article Tim! I’m so glad you got to meet her. Because of you sharing this, she seems an inspiration, even though I never met her. Thank you!

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