Rita McNally was awarded the 2013 Brookline Woman of the Year Award, at the 21st Annual Women Who Inspire Us Ceremony presented by the Brookline Commission for Women.
The commission selected McNally for her efforts to promote racial, cultural and economic equality and diversity in Brookline.
McNally, a mother of four and a grandmother of eight, taught in the Boston School System, traveled to Romania and Greece, where she taught English, perused a law degree in 1980, worked in the Attorney General’s office in the Medicaid Fraud Division and moved on to the Education and Community Outreach Program for the Norfolk County District Attorney’s Office.
McNally served as an elected Town Meeting member, as a volunteer member of the Town’s Community Emergency Response Team, as an active Rotarian and currently as Chair of the Brookline Human Relations/Youth Resources Commission.
“Getting involved with things like CERT changes the way you do things,” McNally said. “You’ll walk taller because you’re prepared and you know how to handle a situation.”
“You almost take a person like Rita for granted,” Brookline Commission for Women Co-Chair and Brookline Police Officer Casey Hatchett said. “If there is a meeting or an issue to work out, you can expect her to be there without a second thought.”
McNally is active with the Brookline Domestic Violence Roundtable, the Jennifer A. Lynch Committee Against Domestic Violence, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee, and the Brookline B-Can Advocacy Subcommittee to name a few of the various committees and organizations she has worked with.
“It gets tiring sometime,” McNally joked. “Sometimes the groups and committees don’t all meet on the same day. I carry a big, big bag on days when they do.”
McNally grew up in Cleveland, OH, where her career in volunteering in the community began when she and her middle school class would read to younger children. She moved to Brookline in 1958 when her husband took a job at Boston College teaching Russian history.
At this time, she began teaching at the Tobin School in Mission Hill. McNally would hold open house gatherings at her home on Aspinwall Avenue for anyone to drop in on Sundays.
She, her husband and her children traveled to Greece and Romania, taking trains through all over Europe. She taught English through embassy programs as her husband, Raymond McNally, researched the real Dracula.
McNally was a regular in a small, underground Romania jazz club, where she saw Louis Armstrong preform. “I gave them all of my Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington tapes because they couldn’t get them there,” McNally said. “Tickets back then were equivalent to $1 in American currency.”
Back in the Sates, she and co-worker Ruth Chase began a program focusing on teaching literacy in the home for kids and adults in the inner city. The NAACP recognized this program.
McNally said that she decided to go law school at Boston State College (now UMass Boston) after her house caught fire in an incident she described as arson. At this time, she was attending school at night, working by day and caring for her children.
As a worker in District Attorney Frank Bellotti’s office, McNally was an advocate for patients who received no support. “I would go after dentists who billed patients for fillings when they had no teeth. Those kind of things.”
At age 80, McNally is still involved in domestic violence, teen dating violence and civil rights issues through the Human Relations Commission to go with the long list of boards and councils she works with.
McNally was honored at Hunneman Hall at the Brookline Main Library on Monday, March 18 at 6 p.m. along with the Brookline Elementary School Essay Contest Winners.
“I have always moved forwards or sideways, even. But never backwards,” McNally said. “ Speakers are important but action is what gets things done.”