Family and friends said goodbye Tuesday afternoon to longtime Centreville resident and land-use committee member Mary Coyle at a Mass of Christian Burial at St. Timothy Catholic Church in Chantilly.
BUT IF YOU'D ASKED any one of them, a month ago, if they'd expected to find themselves there for that reason, they'd have all said no. Yet sadly, Coyle, 68, of Sully Station, died Wednesday, Nov. 7, of breast cancer in Inova Fair Oaks Hospital.
"It came very quickly," said her son Mike, also of Sully Station. "She was just diagnosed Oct. 22 but, by the time my mom went into the hospital, it had spread. They did tests there, but her body was just breaking down at that point."
"We were happy and thankful because she really didn't suffer too much," he added. "But it was a shock to us so, as a family, we're still coming to grips with it."
Besides Mike, the administrative aide to Sully District Supervisor Michael Frey, Coyle is survived by three other children: sons Stephen of Los Angeles, Calif., and Patrick of Raleigh, N.C., and daughter Michele Hargis of Dumfries. Also surviving are her sisters, Linda Thompson, Jean Geffen, Christine Eldridge and Michele Balonek, and brother David Dumuhosky.
Coyle is survived, as well, by her four grandchildren, Caroline, Grace, Jack and Megan. "She enjoyed them immensely," said Mike Coyle. "They were a real source of joy to her, and now I feel so horrible because she doesn't get to see them grow up," said friend Carol Hawn. "She loved her grandchildren so much."
Hawn and Mary Coyle both served on the West Fairfax County Citizens Association and its Land-Use Committee — of which Coyle was a member for almost 20 years, as well as its treasurer and part of its executive committee.
When she joined, Sully District didn't exist and Elaine McConnell was supervisor of the old Centreville District. Said son Mike: "She saw all the changes in the area, and she participated because she wanted to make the community a nice place to live."
"MARY BROUGHT a perspective of somebody who'd lived in the community for many years, before most of the growth," said former WFCCA member and now Planning Commissioner Jim Hart. "She provided such continuity and was generous with her time, thoughtful and sensible, and reliable. And she always wanted to be fair."
WFCCA Chairman Jim Katcham called Coyle a "calm, dignified lady. She spoke her pieces about the cases and was deliberate and purposeful in her consideration of them." Besides that, said Katcham, "She was just a nice person — and she laughed at my corny jokes. We lost a good, community leader."
Hart said he thought recently that she might be ill, since she'd missed a couple land-use meetings, which was unlike her. "But I had no idea how serious it was, until the very end," he said. "She never complained. I think everyone was surprised and saddened. She certainly will be missed."
"I'm utterly devastated," said Hawn. "She was such a gentle person; it's such a loss to everyone in Centreville. I'm still in shock; it was so sudden. Usually, if someone's diagnosed with breast cancer, they undergo treatment. But it didn't happen in this case."
Although quiet, Coyle was "a real backbone" of WFCCA and so knowledgeable, said Hawn: "She didn't talk a lot on the committee, but you knew where she stood. And she was always willing to pitch in and help. I'm going to go to the next land-use meeting and expect her to sit down beside me. It's sad for all of us — we've all lost a dear friend."
"When I came into the room, she always had a big smile, and I'll miss that camaraderie, more than anything," said WFCCA's Judy Heisinger. "We each felt her smile was just for us. I could share anything with her and she'd understand."
Coyle and Heisinger also enjoyed looking at photos of each other's grandchildren. "Mary was a warm, caring, intelligent individual, and I'll miss her personally, as well as professionally," said Heisinger. "I'll keep the family in my thoughts."
In her younger years, Coyle lived in Olean, N.Y., moving here in the early 1960s and working a couple years for the CIA. She and her family settled in Centreville in 1972 in the Meadows of Newgate, where Mary served on her homeowners association board. As a child, Mike Coyle didn't realize all his mother did but, looking back, he's both impressed and appreciative.
"MY MOM was great," he said. "Here was a single mother raising four kids by herself, when it wasn't the norm. There were no support groups or articles written about it then. She did it on her own, and she did everything that needed to be done. She went to our activities — Patrick played football and swam at Chantilly High — and she was there for all of us."
Coyle also worked full time and made dinner every night so they could eat together as a family. Much later, said Mike, "I realized, wow, my mom did a lot."
She was a life-insurance agent, retiring Aug. 31 after 35 years with Johnson & Strachan in Fairfax, so she was looking forward to spending more time with her grandchildren and doing projects around the house. Coyle moved to Sully Station a few years ago and loved music (she used to play viola), reading and gardening. "She planted so many crocuses at her new house," said Hawn.
"I know she was happy living in Sully Station, decorating the house for every season and hosting family gatherings for Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter," said Mike Coyle. "Being around my mom, you learned how to be a good person."