As the wife of former Minnesota Gov. Wendell Anderson, Mary McKee put her three children first throughout her husband’s political career even though she had three degrees of her own.
“She tried to make sure we were out of the press,” said one of her daughters, Amy Anderson. “She made sure we had more of a normal upbringing.”
Anderson, who changed her name back to McKee after she and her husband divorced in 1990, died in her Plymouth home in mid-December. She was 79.
McKee was born in Bemidji in 1939. Her father, John, was a funeral home owner and director who also served as a state legislator throughout much of the 1950s and ’60s. Norma, her mother, was active in the Girl Scouts, leading a troop and directing Scouts camp, according to a biography from her family.
McKee earned a degree in architecture at the University of Minnesota, the only woman in her class of 80. She returned to school for an education degree and taught for three years at Grant Elementary on the East Side of St. Paul before returning to school again to earn a master’s degree in home economics.
She met the future governor, who also earned acclaim as an Olympic hockey player, when she was working as a page for the Minnesota Legislature, her family said. The pair married and had three children: Amy Anderson, Elizabeth Crow and Brett Anderson.
Wendell Anderson was elected governor in 1970 and served for six years. During her time as first lady, McKee arranged her schedule so that public events took a few days a week and the others would be free to spend with her children.
McKee remembered with fondness a 1972 luncheon with presidential candidate George McGovern that included Hubert H. Humphrey and Walter Mondale as guests. It was guarded by 25 Secret Service agents.
Another time, McKee ate pecan pie on the porch with future President Jimmy Carter.
McKee also cited hosting royalty as a cherished memory, including Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon and King Carl Gustaf of Sweden.
In traveling to the National Governors Association conferences, McKee met many other first ladies and thought the network of women could benefit from sharing experiences with one another. She surveyed all of the first ladies and produced a pamphlet about the results in 1972.
After the Andersons divorced, she spent time with her young adult children while renovating her home in Plymouth, her family said. She worked as a radiology technician at HCMC part-time while she helped and enjoyed time with her grandchildren.
She was active in leadership of the Girl Scouts, serving on its National Board in the 1970s. She enjoyed several book clubs, theater at the Guthrie and concerts at Wayzata Community Church.
McKee’s memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 5 at the Washburn-McReavy funeral home in Hopkins. Visitation is at 9:30 a.m.