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Published in The East Hampton Star on September 14, 2023
July 8, 1953 – Aug. 27, 2023
Mary Kathryn McDonnell Brackenridge, a former art dealer and fine-art consultant, died at home in New Canaan, Conn., on Aug. 27. She had lived part time in East Hampton for nearly 20 years, and here she was a member of the Maidstone Club and the Garden Club of East Hampton.
Ms. Brackenridge, who was known as Kathy, was 70 and had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Her husband, Gavin Brackenridge and daughter, Kathryn Frances Brackenridge, were with her at the time of her death.
In New York City, where she moved in 1973, she became a dealer with art galleries including the Coe Kerr Gallery, Davis and Long, and Salander-O’Reilly. She later worked in retail in New Canaan and Greenwich, Conn., and became a regional director of the Doyle New York auction house for 12 years.
She was born in Rye, N.Y., on July 8, 1953, to Charles E. (Bish) McDonnell and the former Mary Frances Breeding. Her father was one of 14 children of James and Anna Murray McDonnell, and along with more than 60 first cousins, she spent every childhood summer at her grandparents’ 300-acre oceanfront compound on Gin and Squabble Lanes in Southampton, until the house “was swept out to sea in a 1960s storm,” her daughter wrote.
She attended Rye Country Day School, Miss Hall’s School in Pittsfield, Mass., Bennett College in Millbrook, N.Y., and the British Institute of Foreign Study in Florence, Italy.
She and Gavin Brackenridge, a part-time East Hampton resident his entire life until the 1990s, were married on July 26, 1980, and she gained a stepdaughter, Kirsten.
“Southampton was where she had roots but her immediate love of East Hampton via home, life, friends, village, and her husband, Guy, and his family proved lasting for her entire life,” her daughter wrote. “Kathy was the most devoted and loving wife, mother, stepmother, and grandmother. She adored her extended family and vast network of great friends spanning from Rye to New York City and East Hampton and New Canaan for whom she was a source of boundless energy, positivity, and support. Kathy showed constant care and interest in everyone in her life.”
When the Brackenridges moved from New York City to New Canaan, she continued to commute back to the city, “not only to pull her weight, but perhaps quite simply because she could not just sit still,” according to her family.
She loved skiing out West and encouraged her daughter to explore and start her life in the Tetons.
Through her years of living with the onset of a mysterious neurological disorder, and her eventual diagnosis, her strong character “allowed her to adapt to every progressive setback with never one single complaint. Ever,” her family wrote. “Ultimately this inner strength defines her being, character, and legacy.”
Hers was “a life lived with purpose and intention.” She found “fun in the regularity of daily routines” and “was known for her effortless style, elegance, and good taste, which was balanced by the perfect dash of ‘kook’ that was singularly sophisticated and just spectacular. She was adored by all and simply adorable.”
Her “greatest source of joy and fuel for an almost otherworldly level of stamina was her 2-year-old grandson, Bish,” named for her late older brother. “She was a gloriously magical grandmother, known as Kacky,” to her three grandchildren by her stepdaughter, and was a favorite aunt and surrogate mom to many.
In addition to her husband and her daughter, who lives in Jackson, Wyo., she is survived by her stepdaughter, Kirsten Brackenridge McCallum of Darien, Conn., and her grandchildren, Thomas W. (Bish) Fauntleroy, and Gavin, George, and Whit McCallum. She also leaves a sister, Margaret (Margo) Genge of Pittsburgh, a niece, and four nephews.
A brother, Charles E. (Bish) McDonnell Jr., died before her.
A celebration of her life was held on Sept. 5 at the Graham Funeral Home in Rye, followed by a Mass of Christian burial the next day at the Church of the Resurrection there. She was buried at nearby Greenwood Union Cemetery.
Donations in her memory have been suggested to her A.L.S. advocacy organization, Compassionate Care ALS, at CCALS.org or P.O. Box 1052, West Falmouth, Mass. 02574.