Gen McCarthy’s favorite adjective for people she liked was “peppy.”
And because she liked most people, the word got a lot of use.
“Mom had an exceptionally happy life and she was full of goodwill,” said her daughter Kate McCarthy Freeman of Minneapolis. “I think it’s rather impossible to know which of the two existed first — which fostered the other.
“She tried to teach us to be like her, to be cheerful and to lift people up.”
McCarthy, 92, who died Feb. 23 in her home, was a longtime resident of Roseville, although more recently of Richfield. For decades, she and her husband, Jim, were executive directors of the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association (1977-1996) and the North Central Florists Association (1967-1987). She was among the first women in the 1970s to be an executive director of an association, McCarthy Freeman said.
Dale Bachman, chairman and CEO of Bachman’s Inc., recalled how the McCarthys worked as a team.
“To me, they were always Jim and Gen,” he said. “They were just an exceptional couple who represented the industry well. She had great spirit.”
Through their leadership, Minnesota was the first state to accept an offer from the national trade association of nurseries to hold a regional board meeting in Washington, D.C., Bachman said. The logistical hurdles were considerable, but paid off in invaluable discussions with members of Congress.
“Even in tough times, Gen made everybody feel comfortable and feel good about what they were doing,” he said. “There were some tough business conditions, tough issues that the industry had to face, and she was just a great one to guide us through the good times and the bad.”
Genevieve Silvis was born July 28, 1924, in Ravinia, S.D., to a ranching family, one of eight children. When the Depression hit, her mother returned to teaching school, leaving the kids to shoulder the domestic tasks. At age 11, “Mom was assigned the housework and to the day she died, she was Mrs. Ty-D-Bol, a scrupulously neat, clean and organized housekeeper,” McCarthy Freeman said.
She trained as a dental hygienist. While at St. Cloud State University in 1945, she was crossing a footbridge when she met Jim McCarthy, “a central casting Irish charmer.” They wed the next year. Longtime residents of Roseville, they had been married 60 years when Jim McCarthy died in 2006.
The McCarthys teamed up to run a public relations firm, with clients such as the St. Paul Civic Opera Association, the Minnesota Zoo and the Schubert Club. Avid conservationists, they worked closely in the 1960s with Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin in the effort to designate the St. Croix River as the nation’s first Wild and Scenic River.
As their public relations business grew, Jim McCarthy left his job teaching speech at the University of St. Thomas and they began work in association management, a career she continued into her 70s.
McCarthy’s close involvement with horticultural associations always was evident in her home.
“I never remember the house when it didn’t have fresh flowers in it,” her daughter said, “You know the real definition of ‘lace curtain Irish’ is fruit in the house when no one is sick and flowers when no one has died.”
McCarthy also took pride in always being impeccably dressed, while never spending a lot of money on style. She also was active in social justice causes through St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Minneapolis.
Survivors include her daughter, Kate; two sons, Dennis and Kevin; brother Thomas Silvis; sister Ruth Schimelpfenig; eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Services have been held.