Betty White may have been an amazing Hollywood legend, but we lost our own California celebrity Betty recently.
Betty McVaney Sheehy, daughter of Kate Armbruster McVaney and “Doc” Eugene McVaney, was an enthusiastic cornerstone of the Armbruster reunions in Nebraska accompanied by her husband Gene and sometimes her fun kids.
We will miss her deeply and will toast her with a martini when we can meet again. Our hearts and love go out to Betty’s four children and their families: Ellen, Dan, Katie, and Patrick.
The family has shared the following about Betty – the initial news, the eulogy, the obituary, and the bio that Betty herself wrote to introduce herself to her retirement community, and some photos at the bottom.
News from Katie and Dan:
With great sadness, I would like to share the news of the death of my mother Elizabeth (Betty) McVaney Sheehy. Mom passed away peacefully at her home in San Rafael last week. She was 94 years old. We will miss her dearly, but take comfort knowing she is in heaven with Gene, her husband of 56 years and the love of her life.
The eulogy that Dan wrote for the funeral service:
Good morning! On behalf of my sisters, Ellen and Katie, my brother Patrick, and our extended families, I would like to thank you all for joining us today as we mourn the death and celebrate the life of our mother Betty.
Mom was born and raised in Norfolk, Nebraska. She was the oldest of five children born to Doc and Kate McVaney. We knew Doc and Kate as Grandma and Grandpa Mac. Mom grew up during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl Era which were devastating to Midwest farm communities. She would often tell us stories about her father who was the local dentist in Norfolk. Times were tough for farmers during the Depression. Grandpa would tell farmers to keep coming to him when they or their family needed dental work done, even if they did not have any money. They could pay him when they could. Usually, the morning after a visit from a farming family to Grandpa’s office, Grandma would find a basket of eggs, a side of bacon or a couple of dressed chickens on the back porch as payment for Grandpa’s services. Mom always said they were like everyone else in town, they didn’t have any money, but they sure ate well.
On hot, humid summer days during the Dust Bowl Era, Grandma would hang wet towels in front of open windows to try and cool down the house. After a few hours, the wet towel would be muddy from the blowing dust. And we think we have it rough on a hot day.
There were three things that were important to Mom throughout her life: her Faith, her Family, and her Friends. Mom was raised in a devout Catholic family attending Mass every Sunday and observing all the Church traditions. She attended Sacred Heart Elementary School and Norfolk Catholic High School which provided a solid foundation for her Faith. She often recalled conversations with her various instructors, nuns, and priests, who engaged them in deep conversations, exploring the beauty of the Church.
During this time, Mom grew more accomplished as a musician. She was a classical pianist in high school and also played the cello. She performed in several recitals in high school, packing the gym as a solo pianist or accompanist for her performing classmates.
Mom went on to graduate from St Catherine’s School of Nursing, a college of Creighton University in Omaha. Shortly afterward, she and her sister Mary realized they didn’t have much of a future in a small Midwest town and were looking to expand their career and life opportunities. So, in their early twenty’s, Mom and Mary packed up their car and headed for Portland, Oregon. That really took some gumption to take such a step back in the days before the internet, cell phones and texting. The girls stopped in San Francisco to visit some cousins and never left. They attended Mass at Old St. Mary’s Church and the social functions held every Friday night in the church basement. One Friday night, Mom met Gene Sheehy, who quickly became the love of her life and her future husband.
Before long, Mom and Dad married and moved to San Rafael. They joined Blessed Sacrament Parish and raised the four of us – Ellen, Dan, Katie, and Patrick. They supported and participated in the parish and school functions. Mom was involved in the women’s guild activities- bake sales, rummage sales, luncheons. She met some wonderful people that became lifelong friends.
They enrolled us in Blessed Sacrament School to help further develop our faith. It was particularly important to Mom and Dad that they provide a solid Catholic upbringing for their kids.
Though she moved to California, Mom stayed in close contact with her family in Nebraska. She wrote a weekly letter to her mother to keep her up to date on her growing family. Over the years, Grandma kept most of those letters in a shoebox and gave them back to Mom before she died.
Mom loved going back to Norfolk for McVaney and Armbruster family reunions. She relished the opportunity to catch up with family members and friends. We enjoyed the reunions, too. It was a wonderful chance to see another side of Mom, providing a quick glimpse of what it might have been like to grow up in Nebraska.
Mom’s friends were especially important to her. She had a great many from all chapters in her life – growing up in Nebraska, Old St. Mary’s, Blessed Sacrament, the Portola Gardens neighborhood and The Villa Marin. She always loved hearing the day-to-day news and catching up with everyone. She lived in communities where friends kept tabs on each other, supporting each other through sad times and celebrating the joys of day-to-day living. And any celebration meant food!
Mom was an amazing baker. She liked to show her appreciation for her family and friends by baking hundreds and hundreds of a dozen different types of Christmas cookies. Throughout the year she would collect 2-pound coffee cans from friends and neighbors to use for storing cookies. She would enlist our help beginning in September. We would crack, shell, and chop huge bags of walnuts and almonds. We would trace the coffee can lid onto wax paper and cut out dozens of these circles to use to separate the layers of cookies in the cans. As she finished each batch, she would pack them in the coffee cans to be stored in a large freezer in the garage. Of course, we kids raided the freezer regularly. We quickly learned to dig down a couple of layers, take a couple of cookies and redistribute the layer so it would look like none were taken. But Mom knew.
Ellen was the sneaky one. She would take a can to Dad and ask him if he would like a cookie. Of course, he would! It seemed as soon as he took the can, Mom would walk in the room. Busted! Since Dad got a cookie, we all got one, too. Way to go Ellen!
The day after Thanksgiving was the start of cookie season for Mom. She would prepare plates of cookies for us to deliver to all the neighbors. The garbage man and the mailman each got a plate. The milkman that did not deliver to us but always smiled and waved when he drove by got a plate. The parish rectory got a plate. Mom insisted that we take a plate whenever we went to a friend’s house.
When we came home from college for Thanksgiving and Christmas, she always sent us back to school with a coffee can full of assorted cookies. They were a big hit with our roommates.
One Christmas when our son Griffin was about 4 years old. He asked Grandma in his little 4-year-old lisp, Grandma, will you make me some snickerdoodles? Of course, she would! From then on, every Christmas she made gumdrop cookies for Grady, snickerdoodles for Griff, and chocolate ting-a-lings for Hayley.
When she wasn’t taking care of everyone else, Mom found the time to decipher the Daily Jumble and work the Crossword. She loved any type of word game, and completing jigsaw puzzles – the more challenging the better! But more than anything else, Mom loved playing bridge! She was an avid bridge player, and through the years she would often play 2-3 times per week. She looked forward to her bridge games at the Villa and played right up until they could no longer gather and play due to Covid.
Happily, we can now gather again as family, friends, and neighbors. I would like to thank you all for joining us in celebrating Mom’s life. When we celebrate Mom’s life, we also celebrate our own lives and how Mom touched each one of us in her own unique way. Mom had four kids and her relationship with each of us was unique to us, just as her relationships with each of you were unique to you.
As we leave here today, we have an opportunity to celebrate our own lives, our lives together, and to just… celebrate life, whatever that means.
Betty Sheehy passed away last week at the age of 94. She was born in Norfolk, Nebraska to Eugene Dennis McVaney and Kathryn Matilda Armbruster McVaney. She is preceded in death by her husband Gene Sheehy, her brothers Donald McVaney, Thomas McVaney, and James McVaney, and her sister Mary Jeanette McVaney. She attended Sacred Heart High School and graduated from St. Catherine’s Hospital School of Nursing of Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. Betty worked as an RN at Fort Miley in San Francisco tending to veterans returning from the Korean War. Betty was an accomplished musician, playing both classical piano and the cello. She was active in Old St. Mary’s Social Club in San Francisco, where she met Gene Sheehy. They were married in Norfolk, Nebraska in 1955 and resided in Greenbrae, CA for a short time before moving to San Rafael, CA. Betty continued to work as an RN until the children came but returned to nursing at Kaiser Hospital in Terra Linda when the children were older. Betty was active in the Blessed Sacrament Church’s Women’s Guild for many years. She was an avid bridge player, loved to attend the San Francisco Symphony, and travel with her husband. Betty is survived by her four children, Mary Ellen Hughes (Mitch), Frankston, TX; Daniel Sheehy (Jill), Rohnert Park; Kathryn Hansen (Chris), Chico; Patrick Sheehy (Linda), Fairfax; five grandchildren: Grady (Nicole), Griffin (Hilary), Hayley, Sarah, and Cori; and two great-grandchildren, Piper and Paislee. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to By The Bay Health (hospice), 17 East Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Larkspur, CA 94939. To plant trees in memory, please visit the Sympathy Store.
The family would like to give special thanks to Maria Benson, Sandra Reynolds, Claudia Calderone, Estela Ramirez, Mariana Corona, and her hospice nurse Blake, for their extraordinarily loving care.
Betty’s bio written for her retirement community:
Elizabeth J. Sheehy
Hello, My name is Elizabeth Sheehy, but I prefer to be called Betty. I was born on March 2, 1927, 1n Norfolk. Nebraska. My parents are Eugene McVaney a dentist, and Kathryn Armbruster McVaney, a school teacher.
I am the oldest and sole survivor of five children, two girls and three boys. We all attended elementary and high school at Sacred Heart School in Norfolk prior to going on to college. I attended St. Catherine’s School of Nursing associated With Creighton University in Omaha where I earned my degree in nursing.
My parents always encouraged us to travel so after working for a local doctor for two years doing general medicine and surgery, my sister and I set out for Portland. in August of 1951. We stopped in the Bay Area to visit an aunt and never made it to Portland. We loved the Bay Area and rented an apartment in San Francisco. We were two single gals living and working in Herb Caen’s “Baghdad by the Bay”. We joined Old St Mary’s Center, a social organization for single Catholics aged 21 to 40 years. We enjoyed the various functions – parties, dances and golf outings and met many wonderful people, too. Many of whom have been dear friends for life. I met my dear Gene at a Friday night party at St Mary’s.
We had a great time dancing and socializing at St Mary’s and enjoyed many memorable meals at Cathay House, a Chinese restaurant across the street. We had a golf date on Washington’s Birthday but could not get onto any of the public courses in the City that day. So we enjoyed the games and rides at Playland at the Beach instead. We ended the day eating tacos as we walked on the beach and up the hill to the Cliff House… and Gene proposed! We tell the story that Gene coughed and I said “Yes!”
We were married on June 25, 1955, back home in Norfolk. We came back to California and settled in an apartment in Greenbrae. Our first child, Mary Ellen, was born in 1956. She was soon followed by Daniel in ’57. We bought our first house In San Rafael in ’58. Then had two more children, Kathryn in ’59 and Patrick in ’60.
As the kids grew older and were in school, I took a refresher course in nursing after not working for 11 years. The human body had not changed but the drugs and disposable equipment had. Computers were coming into use. I preferred bedside care and found the new approach to be more clinical and less to my liking. I eventually retired so that I could focus on my family and our activities.
After raising four kids in a small three-bedroom house with one bathroom, we bought a larger home in the same neighborhood in 1972. I relished our time spent involved with youth sports – Pop Warner football, CYO basketball, Little League baseball, swimming. Gene and I enjoyed watching the kids play while we helped out behind the scenes – snack bar duty, park maintenance, etc. The kids were involved in sports through high school in addition to scouting. We encouraged them to pursue their interests but they had to follow through on the commitment for the full season. If they didn’t like it they could not quit until the end of the season.
As the kids grew older and went on to college, three of them graduated from Cal Poly SLO, we were able to travel more. We enjoyed going down to San Luis Obispo and continued long after the kids left Cal Poly. We did a lot of short trips around California, Lake Tahoe and Reno. When Gene retired after 37 years with Pacific Bell, we were able to extend our travel adventures to cruises to Alaska, Hawaii, Antarctica and the Baltic Sea. We did several extended trips and tours including Canada, the British Isles and the Panama Canal. l enjoyed traveling with Gene as we made good travel buddies.
Gene was born and raised in San Francisco and was a product of the Catholic schools – St. Monica’s, St. Ignatius High School and then after a stint in the Navy, he attended and graduated from the University of San Francisco with a degree in physics. He went to work for Pacific Bell out of college and worked there until he retired. He loved to garden, but hated weeding. He enjoyed growing and propagating his favorite plants • Azaleas, Camellias, Rhododendrons and Japanese Maples and would share his newly propagated plants with friends and neighbors.
He read voraciously white I played bridge. We both enjoyed a good martini and just being together. We voted religiously and tried to solve the problems of the world. We had many spirited discussions.
We were very active in our local Blessed Sacrament parish as our children attended Blessed Sacrament School. We stayed active in the parish until it closed and we moved over to St. lsabella With age, our involvement diminished.
I was always very proud of Gene and proud to be with him. His impish humor was a delight to all. He died July 4, 2011.
Though I enjoyed living With Gene and raising our family In my current home, it is time for me to move on. I have many wonderful memories of our lives in our family home. It is too large for me now and too much to maintain. I look forward to moving to a community like Villa Martin where I can downsize, make new friends and be an active member of the community.
And now for some fun photos!
Katie came across this gem!
Mom brought the entire family back for an Armbruster reunion in 1998.
Out for a walk on her 94th birthday, March 2021
Holding one of her twin great-granddaughters. 2014
At her grandson’s wedding, 2014
Enjoying their martinis at Dad’s 80th BD, 2005
Learning they’ll be grandparents, for the 1st time.
Mom pulled off a surprise party for Dad’s 50th BD, 1975.
Saying the rosary with the four of us. 1962? 1963? (Patrick, Ellen, Katie, Dan)
4 Generations, from top left: Kate Armbruster McVaney, Mom (Betty Sheehy McVaney), Ellen Sheehy, Kate Armbruster McVaney’s mom Julia Armbruster, Dan Sheehy. 1958?
Mom’s brother, Jim McVaney, joins the Sheehy family in CA for Thanksgiving.
Leaving Norfolk to start their new life together. 1955
Pat, Katie, Chris (Katie’s husband), and Betty – July 2014
Betty – November 30, 2015
Contact info for Betty’s children:
Katie Sheehy Hansen
Ellen Sheehy Hughes