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Spotight - Marilyn Joe Bailey-McKeown

 

Marilyn Joe Bailey McKeown took time out to share her story with us. While her namesake is familiar to most who grew up in Bridge City, for Marilyn growing up near the water instilled a love for the ocean, geography and travel. You'll find her timeline interesting, and for this feature, we forgo the usual Q&A.

Marilyn Joe Bailey McKeown
Born:  Orange, Texas
Graduated:  Bridge City High School, 1968
Parents:  Joe and Evelyn Bailey
Current Residence:  Brisbane, Australia

I lived in Bridge City for the first 18 years of my life.  After graduation I’ve moved quite a bit, firstly following my first husband to different Navy postings and secondly following my second husband to different tennis destinations.   Whatever we have done or wherever we have gone, our children have been with us.   We’ve tried to make our moves educational and interesting.  Since I grew up in a slightly dysfunctional family, my primary focus became creating a positive environment for my family.  My husband and I have worked hard at trying to achieve this.  We have had some exciting adventures and met some very nice people along the way. It’s been a great journey.

1968

  • I graduated from Bridge City High School.
  • I attended summer classes at Lamar College, Beaumont, directly after graduation.  
  • In September, 1968 I married first husband, who had a scholarship to McNeese, Lake Charles.  So, we moved to Lake Charles.
  • December, 1968, my husband quit college and joined the Navy. 

1969 -1970

  • When my husband went to boot camp I moved back to Bridge City and lived with my parents.
  • I attended Lamar as a biology major, but only took Spanish and English classes.
  • I joined my husband in Washington, D.C and worked as a civilian for the US Navy while he attended language classes.  He was a Mandarin linguist with NSA.
  • He was then transferred to San Angelo, Texas for a short three month class.  We moved to San Angelo where I became pregnant.
  • My husband was transferred to Taipei, Taiwan for a three-year tour.
  • I moved back home and started Lamar once again.
  • My father died, which was very traumatic for me.  I quit school and decided to go to Taiwan.

1971

  • I joined my husband in Taipei and worked as a civilian for the US Army.
  • I also attended the University of Maryland, Taipei campus, part-time.
  • I learned how to speak Mandarin in a separate course held in Taipei.
  • Our first child was born in Tien Mu, Taiwan.
  • During the time in Taiwan I experienced a 5pt earthquake, at least two typhoons, and torrential rain that caused a mud slide where the back of our house was covered to the lower part of the second floor.  I was almost arrested for running over a sack of flour and accidentally ended up lost on Shang Kai Shek’s summer residence.  This is not a good thing when soldiers with bayonets come toward you in the dark.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Taiwan.

1972

  • My mother died unexpectedly.
  • I returned home for approximately four months to settle her estate and then returned to Taiwan.

1973

  • October - Husband was transferred to Ft Meade, Maryland.
  • Our second child was born in November.
  • I attended the University of Maryland, main campus, part time, evening courses with a major in oceanography.
  • I worked at Goddard Spaceflight Center, NASA and  enjoyed this job enough that I considered taking an engineering lab technician course but pulled out at the last minute due to my upcoming divorce.

1974

  • First husband and I divorced.
  • I continued working at NASA, but moved to Crofton, Maryland.
  • I attended Anne Arundel Community College because it was closer than U Maryland.  Major was still oceanography.
    • Went out on Chesapeake Bay on a tug and took water and sea floor samples.  Then went back to the lab to study what we’d found.  Exciting times!
  • Joined the Washington Ski and Kayak Club, where I took up kayaking as a hobby.  Running the Maryland and Virginia rivers was quite a bit of fun.

1975

  • Became very homesick and moved back to South East Texas, but couldn’t settle in.
  • Moved to Midland, Texas to be closer to my cousin, Henry Bailey and his family.
  • I attended Midland Junior College but there was no large body of water in Midland, so I changed my major to geology.  I hoped to study volcanos.
  • I met my second and current husband in trigonometry class.

1977

  • My now husband, who was an Australian attending Midland Junior College on a tennis scholarship, and I married in Midland.

1978 - 1979

  • My husband signed with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville for a tennis scholarship to be on their Varsity Tennis Team.  We moved to Knoxville.
  • I signed up to attend the University of Tennessee, but pulled out when I landed a job with the university.
  • My husband adopted my first two children and our third child was born while we were in Tennessee.
  • Sometimes the children and I would go on the tennis trips, at our own expense.  These were usually fun, spent going to museums and watching tennis matches.  I considered myself the team mom, since my husband was the only one with a wife.
  • At the end of his two year term at U Tennessee we purchased a motor home and travelled on the USPTA Tennis Circuit for nine months.  We travelled from Tennessee to Texas, then north to the Canadian/USA border, to the USA East coast, down and back again.   We had three children, a TV, skates, three bicycles, books and a dog and a cat with us.  This was a fantastic opportunity to tour museums and learn a bit about each city that hosted a tournament.  My favorites were the cities that had American Indian museums, or of course the Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C.  Even though I’d lived in the DC area, I never tired of spending a day at the Smithsonian.

1979- 1981

  • We decided to move to Australia so my husband could travel the Australian tennis circuit and I’d have a chance to get to know his family.  Most of our things were put in storage, but we packed a few things to ship to Australia.
  • We settled in Numurkah, Victoria, the small town my husband had grown up in.  He and three other tennis players then toured together following the tennis circuit while I stayed behind with the children. 
  • At one point my husband’s father became ill and because my husband was the only son without “a real job” he was elected to run the family business.  My husband returned home to take over the shop, which was a large old fashioned type store that sold haberdashery, shoes, clothing, food, tools, wood, etc.  When we arrived the hardware section was still weighing nails and screws, just like Mr Jackson’s feed store used to do in Bridge City in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  You name it and there was a department in the store that sold it. 
  • This was a complete change for me because it was going back to the 1950’s.  I wanted to work in the shop, but my husband’s mother thought women with young children should be at home –so I volunteered for the school “Tuck Shop” which served sandwiches and icy poles to kids during breaks and lunches, joined a play group for our youngest one, and rode my push bike (bicycle) to and from school with the kids.  I also joined the community band after I purchased an inexpensive trumpet on the local market.  This was a complete change for me after being spoiled since the 1960’s.  Where was the automatic clothes washer and dryer, where was the dishwasher, where was the self-cleaning oven?  I did not like living in Australia the first time we arrived.
  • My husband’s family decided the best thing to do was to sell the shop, so my husband and I set out to modernize what we could.  We did things like purchase pre-packaged nails, put up serve-yourself stands for simple items, painted, put in wheel chair ramps, and made the store as easy to manage and modern as possible.  This was in opposition to the manager, who fought my husband every inch of the way.  Once the store sold we were free to do as we pleased.
  • Our fourth child was born in January in Numurkah.
  • My husband was offered a job coaching in Vienna, Austria, which he accepted.  So with four children, the youngest being the baby at eight weeks old, we moved to Vienna.  We stopped in London on the way and decided it would be interesting to go by ferry to the continent and then via train to Vienna.  This turned out to be a most horrendous trip we’ve ever taken.  We had 22 suitcases and four children.  We didn’t speak French or German.  Usually when you go on a trip you can find at least one person who speaks English, but not this time.  The only natural feature we really saw were the White Cliffs of Dover, the train trip from Belgium to Vienna was in the evening; therefore no scenery.
  • Living in Vienna was magic.  We lived near the Prater in a huge third floor apartment.  The building was very European, with statues standing in outside recesses along the top.   I loved living in Vienna partially due to the history that surrounded us at each corner.  The Prater is a public park created from lands confiscated from the royal family when Austria became a Republic.  I walked the kids to the park at least twice a day.  The eldest two walked to the tennis club for lessons each day. 
  • Weekends found us hopping in our car exploring the Austrian countryside, discovering castles, Roman ruins and finding interesting things to do.  I taught the children through the Australian correspondence school system, which worked until I went on strike because they were being unruly.  While in Vienna I learned enough German to get by quite well.  My husband taught tennis in German.  Now I can only remember how to say simple sentences.
  • My husband also played tennis while we were there.  We attended some tournaments in Kitzbuhel and Seefeld, Austria.  I fell in love with Seefeld.   It’s a small village in the higher Alps, located above Innsbruck, Tirol, Austria.  The village is one you would find on a postcard, or a travel brochure.  It is absolutely lovely and my most favorite place, ever.  I thought we were very cleaver hiking the steep mountains, until we came across a young boy and a goat above a caldera.

1982 – 1986 or 87

  • My husband’s job lasted only until the snows came, so at Autumn’s end we moved to Dallas, Texas, where he had friends who would help him find a job.  He eventually ended up at Las Colinas Country Club as head pro.  We lived first in Richardson and then in Irving.
  • While he was at Las Colinas he became involved in coaching for the Dallas Junior Tennis Assn and also helped run USPTA tournaments.  I enjoyed the part of my husband’s coaching life that took us behind the scenes.  I helped in the background as well, especially at his first Dallas club.
  • Our fifth and last child was born in Texas. 
  • We camped every month just to get away, always bringing the canoe with us.
  • My husband was clocking in too many hours and was wearing himself thin, so we decided for a complete sea change to move back to Australia.  In the meantime he accepted a temporary part time coaching job in Oklahoma.  We immigrated back to Australia at the end of 1987, settling in Sorrento, Victoria.  Sorrento is a small community located on a narrow peninsula near Melbourne.  This peninsula skirts the Tasman Sea and Port Philip Bay.  We lived two blocks from the Tasman Sea, with a beach surrounded by high cliffs and rugged surf (much like some of California’s northern beaches) and six blocks to the calm Port Philip Bay. 

1987- 1988 or 1989

  • I worked for the Australian Army in Portsea.  I could look out my office door and see the surf rolling in, or take a walk along the beach during my lunch hour.  It was so peaceful.
  • Weekends our family could be found at the water.   My husband and kids would snorkel in the calmer waters or we climbed over the steep sand hills.  This is where I saw my first sea lion in the wild.
  • We started camping and the kids and my husband took up mountain climbing.  Our little five year old was a wiz at getting to the top and abseiling down. 
  • Sometime during this period I started getting sick.  I was diagnosed with several illnesses,  from Muscular Dystrophy, then MS until the neurologists diagnosed a rare disease called Stiff Person Syndrome.  I would fall down when hit by wind, someone touching me, cold weather or bright lights.  I eventually needed a wheelchair to get around because I would not only fall but sometimes would freeze and contract as though my circuits had just stopped working.  I was still working, so would load the wheel chair and then drive to work.  This became dangerous because on my way home my eyes would sometimes contract shut.  My kids called me a “Push Me, Pull You”.  When I came home some would get behind me and some in front and push/pull me up to our second story house.  We realized it was time to move when my wheel chair bogged down in the sand on my way back from seeing the kids off at the bus stop.
  • So we moved back to Numurkah for family support.  My husband became my Carer and also started coaching again.  I eventually became so ill that I stayed in the bedroom with a heater on.  I started having plasma apheresis every three months in a hospital in Melbourne.  This enabled me to walk and function on an almost normal basis and reduced my muscle contractions.  Our doctor recommended we move to Queensland where the temperatures are moderate and my body would move a bit better from the heat.

1989

  • We moved to Brisbane, Queensland where my husband had a job waiting as a tennis coach.
  • The Queensland Health System did not provide plasma apheresis, so my treatments stopped.  This meant that my health deteriorated quickly.   

1990

  • I was in a semi-coma and close to death when my GP ordered new blood tests which indicated I had Hashimotos Hypothyroid Disease, which is actually a common disease.  Within seven days of taking the new medication I was moving well, although I had to re-learn how to balance and walk again.  I’ve been functioning like a regular person ever since. 

1991

  • Once I was better I decided to attend the equivalent of a community college to obtain a certificate in business administration.  I needed to learn to use computers.
  • I started working for a charity that deals with hard to place children who have been removed from their homes for various reasons (severe mental and/or physical disabilities) and worked for them until 2012.  (Recently retired.)

Along the way:

  • A man named Doctor Rumpler took us to hike the Lower Alps.  The Lower Alps are not less high, just located in the lower part of Austria.  My husband had the two year old in a child back carrier on his back, I had the ten week old in the Snugli on my chest and the two other children were mobile.  We hiked all day, up and onward on narrow mountain trails overlooking deep valleys, passing very carefully under fallen trees and over them. 
  • We were warned while wind surfing on Neusiedlersee, an Austrian lake, that if the wind carried us too close to the far shore to jump in the water and swim back.  The other side of the lake was Hungary and we’d have been put in jail.  We’d passed the guard towers manned by machine gun soldiers and it was a frightening thought.
  • Our two year old had to use the toilet, so we stopped someone in a back Vienna street in the hopes of finding a public toilet.  She escorted us to a non-descript building and inside was a Catholic chapel that the Germans had tried to locate during WWII.  It had many golden items in it, from the altar to the ceilings.  She explained that during the war the underground used it as a hospital.  The Germans never located it.  This place was gaudy, but amazing.
  • We have had visitors from Denver, Colorado; Midland; Dallas; Bridge City and Orange.  I enjoy playing tour guide and showing our guests around our part of Australia. 
  • We kayak as a means of getting out and keeping fit and make it a point to try to get on the water wherever we go.  We are lucky enough to have dugongs in Moreton Bay, which is near where we live, and have managed to see a few.  I like kayaking on the Gold Coast because when we finish paddling hours on the water, there’s always a good restaurant nearby.
  • When my husband was representing Australia as part of the Australian over 50’s Men’s Tennis Team we toured New Zealand.  While there, my husband and I, and several of the tennis team members kayaked in the bay near Christchurch.  A freak storm came up and we had to be rescued at sea, as the ship could not get close enough to the land without being shattered.  This was very exciting.
  • We stayed in a Buddhist Monastery on a mountain in western Taiwan for nearly a week.  There were over 11 temples linked by mountain trails on this one mountain.  To get to the monastery we had to walk up many, many, many steps since there was no road going to the facility further up the mountain.   My Mandarin came in handy during this stay because no one spoke English.
  • We re-visted Austria around 2009.  Austria was still magic!  I’d go back to live there anytime.  This time we ventured down a salt mine in Germany, going down to the bottom via a slide that had been used by miners for hundreds and hundreds of years.
  • We stayed in a small coastal village in Portugal for five days, again no English, but we found a man who spoke Spanish.  Thank goodness for high school Spanish!
  • I co-authored a book about goals and time management.  The book was aimed at high school students.  I’ve also had several articles and poems published in various magazines/newspapers.

Plans

  • I’d like to take a conversational Mandarin course to brush up on my Chinese.   Who knows, we might end up teaching English in Taiwan when we both retire.  I’d also like to take a stained glass course to eventually create some beautiful stained glass windows.
  • When we return from a trip to Victoria in January I plan to volunteer for the RSPCA (animal protection society).
  • If our budget allows, our next overseas holiday will be to spend some time on a Greek Island or spread the time between Tuscany and Greece.  Half the fun of going on a trip is researching the area and creating a plan.  I enjoy reading about the history of an area before we go.

Likes

  • I enjoy going, be it to a nearby forest to walk through the trees or on a long holiday. 
  • I like being near or on the water.  I suppose that has something to do with spending so much time on the bayou when I was a little girl.  (In retrospect, I probably should have majored in English or journalism and made travel writing my career.  I do journal my experiences, but have never submitted any of these for publication.) 
  • I like cooking with a theme in mind and throwing dinner parties.
  • I like family gatherings, bbq’s, morning teas, come over for breakfast type of things.

Regrets

  • I switched majors five times and switched universities/colleges an equal number of times.  I regret never finishing my degree.
  • I miss home and regret not being able to return to the United States more than I have.

 

About The Photographs

Main photo of me: Denis and I were on a nature cruise looking for dolphins and whales at Hervey Bay, Queensland.
City skyline: Brisbane, Queensland taken from Kangaroo Point. We live around a 20 minute drive from here.
Kayak photos: My husband, Denis, and I were at the same location with different views. The photo was taken at an area called The Spit on the Gold Coast, Queensland.
City row houses: This was our Vienna, Austria neighborhood along Danu Canal, which is a tributary of the Danube.
Koonya Back Beach: This was two blocks from our home in Sorrento, Victoria. You can't tell it, but the sand dunes are quite high. The body of water is The Tasman Sea.
Shi Tou Shan Monastary and mountain path to temple, Taiwan. Denis and I stayed in the monastary for a bit of R&R. I quit counting the very steep steps to get to the monastary at 50.
Chateau on the Danube. We were lost and following the river when we found this. Roman ruins were nearby.

White house on the cliff. It was the bed & breakfast we stayed in for a week in Sintra, Portugal.

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