Margaret McEnery, who presided S.J. political family, dies at 83
By Philip J Trounstine, Mercury News Political Editor
Margaret McEnery was the family’s ‘steady rock’
Margaret McEnery, the matriarchal backbone of one of San Jose’s most prominent political families, died Friday at her home in Santa Cruz after a two-month bout with cancer. She was 83.
The daughter of Benjamin “Honest Ben” Sellers, a city councilman and mayor between 1914 and 1918, she was the wife of the late John P. McEnery, owner of Farmer’s Union Corp. and San Jose’s leading Democratic politician in the 1940s and ’50s. “There weren’t too many people at the fulcrum the way she was for most of a century,” said her son, Tom McEnery, councilman and mayor between 1978 and 1990. “She saw the birth, the death and the rebirth of the city.”
Born Margaret Dolores Sellers at home on Orchard Street, now Almaden Boulevard, she was reared and lived virtually her whole life in downtown San Jose, where her family owned and operated San Jose Creamery, on First Street between San Antonio and San Fernando streets.
She attended St. Joseph’s and Lowell elementary schools and graduated from Notre Dame High School. She later attended Heald Business College and then taught business classes briefly in Sacramento and San Jose.
In 1934, she married John McEnery, then a brash, young Irish-American politico who was manager of the Sainte Claire Hotel. Friends like Dorothy Comte would later say that “Margaret was the only woman born who would have stood up to John” — an impulsive and outspoken personality given to powerful sentiments and actions.
They had met, according to family lore, when John was digging graves for political boss Tommy Monahan at Calvary Cemetery, where Margaret, accompanied by her mother, Catherine, was putting flowers on the grave of her grandfather, Patrick Condron.
John McEnery arranged to have a priest introduce him to Margaret and her mother. “He said right away, ‘That’s the girl for me,’ ” Comte said.
They had six children. Their eldest, Catherine Bengie, died at age 22 in a horseback riding accident at the Condron family ranch on Mount Hamilton. Another daughter, Theresa, died at birth.
McEnery was active in the parents and alumni associations of St. Joseph’s Elementary School, Bellarmine College Preparatory School and Notre Dame High School. A lifelong member of St. Joseph’s Church, she also was a member of Ladies of Charity, the Catala Society at Santa Clara University and the ladies auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. She also served on the board of O’Connor Hospital.
Known for her sartorial style and distinctive hats, McEnery was a presence at San Jose civic events for more than half a century, in recent years presiding over the opening of the downtown retail pavilion and cutting the ribbon at the new convention center, later named in honor of her son Tom.
Most of all, she was known as the core of a celebrated extended family. As Dr. Victor Corsiglia, whose father had been a close friend of John McEnery’s, put it: “Margaret was the steady rock of the McEnery family.”
In addition to Tom, McEnery is survived by daughters Margaret McEnery of San Jose and Mary Canepa of Santa Cruz, son John McEnery of Santa Cruz, 13 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A service will be held at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at St. Joseph’s Church in San Jose. A rosary will be said at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at St. Joseph’s. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations be given to St. Anthony de Padua Mission, P.O. Box 803, Jolon. 93928.
Said Tom McEnery: “She loved St. Anthony — the patron saint of lost things.”