Rita Ann Sheehy, 90, beloved wife and mother, died Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012, at her home in Helena.
Born on June 25, 1921, in Kremlin, Rita and her twin, Richard, were the youngest children of John Baptiste and Mary (MacHale) Schiltz. Her father’s lumber business brought them to Billings in 1926. Rita graduated from Billings Senior High School in 1939 and from the University of Montana in 1943. She completed her education at the University of Wisconsin to qualify as a medical technician.
While at college in Missoula, Rita met John C. “Skeff” Sheehy of Butte, whom she married in Billings on Sept. 24, 1945. They began their married life in Helena, but moved to Billings in 1947 to establish a law practice with Rita’s brother, Jack Schiltz. For the next 30 years they raised their family of 11 children while actively participating in the affairs of their church, community and state. They moved back to Helena in 1978, and Helena was Rita’s home for the rest of her life.
Like the Bible’s valiant woman, Rita did not eat the bread of idleness. Her typical day began with lap-swimming, followed by attending Mass, baking, ironing with her prized Ironrite mangle, reading, joining the ladies for bridge, volunteering in the schools or the historical society, serving on boards, watching sports and political commentary on TV and attending the events of her children and grandchildren. She always had her knitting with her and created countless sweaters and caps for her family at meetings, on bleachers or in the car. In an era before running tracks and running shoes, Rita jogged in circles around the YMCA gym in her Keds. She took up volleyball in her 50s and swam daily until she was 88.
A committed Democrat, Rita knew her mind and didn’t hesitate to buttonhole her elected representatives and give them a piece of it. Even before the new Constitution, she was passionate about our rights to clean air and clean water. In 1969, she was appointed to the Montana State Board of Health, where she was instrumental in the board’s adoption of rules for clean air in Montana. As board chairwoman she once went to court to get an order requiring the Department of Health to follow the rules established by the board.
Rita was proud that all 11 of her children earned college degrees, 23 degrees all told. When her first child left for college in 1964, Rita wrote her a letter every week. She continued that practice for 48 years, expanding her mailing list to include all her children and their spouses, all her siblings and Skeff’s and their spouses, and everyone’s children. By 2012, nearly 100 relatives eagerly awaited Rita’s Wednesday letter, filled with family news, reflections on current affairs and memories. College-aged grandchildren especially appreciated the five-dollar bill she slipped into their envelopes. Rita closed every letter with the words, “Keep The Faith.”
Rita was preceded in death by her parents; her beloved twin, Richey; her sisters, Mary Schiltz Gleason Thomas and Marjorie Schiltz Lemire MacLean; and her infant granddaughter, Rita Mary Pavlish. The Schiltz family made considerable sacrifices for our country during World War II, losing Richey on Iwo Jima and Rita’s brother-in-law, James Gleason, in a plane crash at sea.
Rita is survived by her husband of 66 years, John C. “Skeff” Sheehy, and their children: Anne (Peter) Yegen of Park City, Tom Sheehy of Helena, Mary (Duane) Moe of Great Falls, Pat (Debbie) Sheehy of Billings, Kate (Dirk) Whitney of Helena, Eileen Sheehy (Bob Maxson) of Billings, Rosalie (David) Cates of Missoula, Margaret Sheehy (Ralph Johnson) of Albany, N.Y., Jenifer Sheehy of Billings, Martha Sheehy (Sidney Thomas) of Billings and John Sheehy (Jill Golden) of Marlboro, Vt. She is also survived by her brother and sister-in-law, Jack and Eddi Schiltz of Billings; 19 grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and many much-loved in-laws, nieces and nephews.
Rita’s family is deeply grateful to Monsignor Kevin O’Neill for his devout invocation of divine blessing at the anointing of the sick; to him and all the Cathedral of St. Helena staff for their thoughtful and prayerful attention to her family’s needs; to care givers Amanda Sather, Marie Lavinder and St. Peter’s Hospice, especially Mickie Simonson, for the patient and tender care they gave Rita for many months; and to all our friends and relatives, too many to mention but lovingly and gratefully remembered, for the prayers, comfort and food they provided during Rita’s last days.
A rosary service will be 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, at Anderson Stevenson Wilke Funeral Home. Mass of Christian burial will be at noon Friday, Feb. 24, at the Cathedral of St. Helena with a reception to follow in the Brondel Center of the Cathedral. Burial will follow at Resurrection Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in Rita’s name to your church, favorite charity, or donate a children’s book in Rita’s memory to your local library. Rita would like that. Condolences may be sent to the family by visiting: www.aswfuneralhome.com