Mildred Cooney, 90, four-sport athlete in her youth

Posted: November 20, 2013

AMONG THE memories left behind by Mildred Cooney, there was a beat-up pair of bowling shoes that still make her kids laugh.

She was in her 50s and competing in the Queen of Heaven bowling league, named for the defunct Catholic grade school in Cherry Hill where her children attended. At some point during a match, she must have dropped a ball on her right foot and broken the outside toe.

Rather than quit playing, she grabbed some scissors and a knife and carved up her shoe as if it were a Thanksgiving turkey. Necessity is the mother of invention, and Mildred Cooney was in pain.

"She didn't want to let it stop her," daughter Carol Eckerl chuckled, "so she cut the side of her shoe so that her toe could push its way out."

Mildred Cooney, who died Wednesday at age 90, transformed from an accomplished athlete in her younger days to family matriarch of her four children and 10 grandchildren.

Born Mildred Lowry on Christmas Day 1922, she spent much of her formative years as a child of the Great Depression, which likely explains her reluctance to discard a pair of otherwise serviceable bowling shoes. She was a four-sport athlete at P.S. DuPont High School in Wilmington, Del., before graduating and marrying Tom Cooney in 1953.

The newlyweds had their first child, Carol, two years later. When Joe, Sharon and Bob followed, Mildred put away her sports gear (for a while, at least) and got down to the business of raising a family.

"She was an unbelievable athlete," said her son Bob, who covers the Sixers for the Daily News. "My mom was pretty tall - 5-9, 5-10 - and played basketball. She'd score boatloads of points. I swear I could dig out some clips where she had 28 points in a game that her team had 32."

Tom Cooney died in 1998 after a 50-year career in newspapers, including his final 38 at the Daily News. He was one of the legendary writers/editors in the paper's 88-year history. The adage goes that behind every great man there's a great woman. That was Mildred Cooney.

As Tom worked odd hours, Mildred was the glue to the household. She became a terrific, yet nervous, cook.

"All she cared about was everyone's reaction," Bob Cooney said. "It was almost like she couldn't breathe until someone had that first bite and told her how good the food was. She cared that much about all of us."

Predictably, Mildred was an avid sports fan - and not just of the four majors. Whenever golf's important events rolled around, she would keep tabs on Phil Mickelson. "My boy, Phil," she used to call him.

Mildred was an only child as the roaring 1920s gave way to the desolate 1930s. When she met Tom Cooney, she was charmed by his handsome looks, booming low voice and his five siblings.

"One of the reasons she married my father was because he came from a large family," her daughter Carol said. "And that was something she really wanted."

The first great-grandchild is due on Dec. 26 - a day after Mildred would have turned 91. The Christmastime birthday will continue the cycle of life for the Cooney family.

"In some ways, my mom could be vulnerable," Carol said. "But at her core was real strength."

Services: Today from 9 to 9:45 a.m. at the Schetter Funeral Home, 304 W. Route 70, Cherry Hill, NJ 08002. In lieu of flowers, the family kindly requests donations to Autism Research, c/o Gloucester County Special Services Education Foundation Inc. (GCSSEF), 1340 Tanyard Road, Sewell, N.J., 08080.

On Twitter: @EdBarkowitz


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