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Mary Dabinett Woolnough

August 6, 1929 ~ May 20, 2020 (age 90)


Mary Dabinett Woolnough, age 90, of Petoskey, Michigan died May 20, 2020 in hospice care at Independence Village of Petoskey from complications of non-Covid related pneumonia. She was surrounded by her loving caregivers, daughters and cat, Suzie. Mary was born on August 6, 1929 in Kalamazoo, Michigan to The Reverend Leslie Nevins and Grace Irey. She was the middle child of three girls and spent her youth in different towns throughout Michigan. Her favorite years were those spent in Petoskey to which she returned later in life. As the daughter of a clergyman in the 1930s and 1940s, she learned to be frugal and hardworking. She often shared memories of growing and canning vegetables, waiting tables and keeping boarders at their home on Mitchell Street in Petoskey to help support her family. Her favorite Michigan memories were of Winter Carnival, learning to ski and playing in the snow with her sisters. If she could scrounge up a nickel for an ice cream cone on Sundays, she was in heaven.

After graduating from high school in Northern Michigan, Mary followed the snow to Colorado College on a scholarship where she loved skiing and the sorority life of Theta. She took a brief hiatus from school to be a ski bum then on to the University of Colorado. There she completed her undergraduate degree in French. She moved to Switzerland on a Rotary Scholarship to study at the University of Lausanne. Disappointed that women in the 1950s could not work in international business and travel the world, she got a masters in teaching. Mary believed that education changed lives and the world for the better. Post war Europe had also whetted her appetite for travel so she found jobs teaching in international schools abroad.

Mary sought adventure in the Far East and in 1959 taught school in Tokyo, Japan. While on leave, John Titus Dabinett, a tall handsome army officer stationed in Korea, swept her off her feet. They were married in November of that year. Two daughters were born in quick succession, Laura Nevins and Mary (Lisa) Hollister. Mary Nevins quickly adapted and grew to love military life. She was a team player working in military schools when needed and building relationships with senior officer’s wives to advance her husband’s career. They moved to Alaska from Fort Bragg then to Arlington, Virginia in 1964 where John was reassigned multiple times. It was not always easy living with John but as with so many of her generation, she met the challenge and prevailed, usually with great hair, fresh lipstick and a new outfit. She continued her role as mother and teacher working as a reading specialist at Oakridge Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia. When John became ill, she stopped work to become his caregiver until his death in 1989.

Through her military circles in the Washington DC area, Mary met and fell in love with another handsome Army officer, General Jim Woolnough. They were soon married at the home of her daughter Laura Nevins, of Winchester, Virginia, in December of 1991. They had five glorious years traveling the world, socializing at the Army Navy Country Club and attending events at West Point.

After Jim passed, she returned to her beloved Petoskey to live part time with her sister Esther Winchester at the Cliffs of Bay Harbor. For many years she lived between Arlington, Virginia and Northern Michigan. Esther and Mary were known for their love of life. They enjoyed years of entertaining, cruising and socializing with friends from all over the world. In 2016, Mary moved to Independence Village of Petoskey, Michigan where she lived out her life with old friends, Suzie and her books.

Mary is preceded in death by her sisters, Ruth and Esther, and her husbands, John and Jim. Her daughter, Laura Nevins Dabinett, lives with her husband Russell McKelway in Berryville, Virginia. Lisa Dabinett Mitchell lives with her husband, Robert Mitchell in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is succeeded in life by four beloved grandchildren, Madeline McKelway of Boston, Massachusetts, Olivia McKelway of New York, New York, Robert Mitchell of Santa Clara, California and John Mitchell of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Interment at Arlington National Cemetery is planned for the winter of 2021. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to Army Emergency Relief at



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