Obituary: Marilyn Honeywill / She gave up singing to work on farm, raise kids

July 17, 1930 - Dec. 16, 2013

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When the McCabe sisters were growing up in Friendship, Gretchen wanted to be just like her big sister, Marilyn.

"She was my idol," said Gretchen Coyne of Pittsburgh. "She did everything well. She wrote beautifully, she sewed beautifully, she was a good cook, she was beautiful. She was my idol."

And those were just a few of Marilyn Honeywill's many talents.

Mrs. Honeywill, who died Monday after complications from heart surgery, was an accomplished performer who sang on the 1940s KDKA radio show, "All Aboard," hosted by Ed Schaughency and Bernie Armstrong. Later, while raising six kids on a working farm in Mars, the soprano would drive into town to sing and administer parenting tips on a KDKA-TV live morning show.

The McCabe sisters and their brother, Jerry of Pittsburgh, were born into a musical household. Their mother, Vitoline, played the baby grand piano and their father, Edward, was an Irish tenor in a German band.

When she was around 13 years old, her parents sent her for vocal lessons at the Pittsburgh Musical Institute. After high school at St. Ursuline Catholic Convent School, Mrs. Honeywill attended the Pennsylvania College for Women -- now Chatham University.

What followed was a promising career and glowing reviews. "Music critics have declared Miss McCabe is headed for the Metropolitan Opera," read one local newspaper clip.

Mrs. Honeywill also became one of voices of the "Chevrolet Sweethearts," a commercial jingle from the 1950s. She urged television viewers to "See the USA in your Chevrolet."

After marrying Ransom Honeywill, the couple moved to the country to be closer to his work. They had six children in eight years, somehow finding room for everyone in a small, rented house that had just one bathroom.

"She was a city girl, but she took to farming quickly," said her son, Bill of Gibsonia. Her daughter Lynn Honeywill-Norris of Middlesex recalled, "There were days when Mom would get all excited because there was a cow on the front porch."

After getting the kids off to school, it wasn't unusual for Mrs. Honeywill to muck a stall or perform other farming chores.

As the children grew up, she stepped back from singing, instead channelling her artistic energies into writing musicals for the Mars Community Recreational Association. Mrs. Honeywill would write the book, the score, produce and design the look of the shows, which had titles such as "Compass Capers" and "Fantasy Frolic."

"It astounded us, hearing she gave everything up to raise her family. She just had an incredible voice," said her eldest son, Noel Honeywill of Hopewell.

Later in her career, Mrs. Honeywill returned to the stage with Pittsburgh's Civic Light Opera and once sang the national anthem at Forbes Field.

She was indefatigable, designing a new house in Gibsonia and starting a parenting magazine with daughter, Lynn. In its first incarnation 27 years ago, it was "Pittsburgh's Child," later to be known as Pittsburgh Parent.

"Neither of us had any computer background, but she was the creativity of the whole thing, designing ads, putting out each edition," Mrs. Honeywill-Norris said. "She also was a founding member of Parenting Publications of America, which is now the Parenting Media Association."

In later years, while juggling the demands of work and enjoying the arrival of each grand and great-grandchild, Mrs. Honeywill survived two bouts with breast cancer.

"She was great, people loved her," Mrs. Honeywill-Norris said. "She could have been famous and she gave it up for us."

Mrs. Honeywill also is survived by daughters Gretchen Dill of Seattle and Susan Liebenberg of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and another son, Edward Honeywill of Wexford.

A funeral service is scheduled for 10 a.m. today at the First Presbyterian Church of Bakerstown.

The family suggests donations be made in Mrs. Honeywill's memory to the First Presbyterian Church of Bakerstown memorial fund, Bakerstown, PA 15007.

Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1478 or on Twitter @MariaSciulloPG.


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