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Mary Violet Hegarty Dunworth, 89
Beloved Fixture in Summer Club
By David Crohn

Mary Dunworth, a longtime Fire Island resident and beloved member of the Summer Club community since 1943, died last Thursday, June 22, at her family house on West Walk. She turned 89 this month and spent the off-season in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

The cause was heart disease. She died peacefully, “in the place she considered home.”

Dunworth, who friends and family knew as Violet, will be remembered most of all for her buoyant optimism and love for people, said her oldest daughter, Mary Violet Frayne, in an interview.

“She would say, ‘You don’t know what kind of sadness people have in their life and how they need cheering.’”

She spread this cheer as far as the Seaview market, where, decked out in one of her trademark sun hats, she would “say hello and get to know every person she met.”

It was this wide-ranging curiosity about the world and interest in people that kept her alive even after she began her struggle, ten years ago, with the disease that would take her life, said her grandson Thomas Frayne, Jr., a Manhattan resident.

Dunworth was the matriarch of a large clan that left its mark on the community over the years. Her son-in-law, Thomas Frayne, who died in 2000, was an editor and writer for this newspaper; her sons and daughters and grandchildren, never blessed with allowances, worked summers over the years in Ocean Beach, as lifeguards, waiters, waitresses, DJs, delivery boys and writers.

She is survived in all by seven children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Dunworth was born Mary Violet Hegarty in New York City on June 1, 1917. Her father was a first-generation immigrant from Ireland, and her mother was a Scottish immigrant. She lost her only sibling, a sister named Lily, to diphtheria in 1925.

She graduated from Hunter College in 1938, and married her husband, a successful PR executive, a few years later. The couple built their house—which she designed—on West Walk in 1951.

Back then, Summer Club was known as the Fire Island Beach Club, and it was a male-dominated organization that held closed meetings to decide the future of neighborhood affairs. But, along with the other mothers in that small but burgeoning community, she fought to have her voice heard.

“My mother wasn’t afraid to stand up to people when she wanted her voice heard,” said Violet Frayne.

Even in her later years, she wrote to her grandchildren every week. Anything and everything was fair game in her letters, from local happenings to presidential debates from a year before. She was passionately political, and also loved music and the arts.

Although her family will miss her, they take comfort in the fact that she led a complete life, and had a happy marriage of 54 years.

“She said she had a complete life, a charmed life,” said her daughter.