Mary Edna (O'Doherty) Helfer

  • Born: April 11, 1937
  • Died: April 29, 2018
  • Location: Falmouth, Massachusetts

Joyce Funeral Home

245 Main Street
Waltham, MA 02453
Tel. (781) 894-2895

Tribute & Message From The Family

Falmouth – Mrs. Mary Edna (O'Doherty) Helfer, of Falmouth, died Sunday, April 29, 2018 at Maristhill Nursing Home in Waltham following a period of declining health. She was 81.

Mary Edna was born in Chester, Pennsylvania on April 11, 1937, a daughter of the late Edward and Mary Ann (McLaughlin) O'Doherty, both natives of Malin Head, County Donegal, Ireland. After high school she trained at Philadelphia General Hospital before becoming a registered nurse.

It was at Philadelphia General that Mary Edna met physician resident and Syracuse, New York native, Ray E. Helfer. They married in June 1957 and enjoyed thirty-five happy years together before Ray's death in 1992.

Following their marriage Mary Edna and Ray moved to Tuba City, Arizona where Ray fulfilled his military commitment as a government health service physician and later held the same position in North Dakota. After that they moved to Denver, Colorado where Ray became a member of the faculty at the University of Colorado Medical School and became a pioneer into research in the field of child abuse. In 1968 he co-authored with Dr. C. Henry Kempe the first major work in the field, "The Battered Child". In 1997 Mary Edna, along with Ruth Kempe and Richard Krugman edited the fifth edition of the landmark research.

Following a move to Manhasset, New York Ray established the first child abuse program for the five boroughs in New York City. In 1973, with their growing family in tow, Mary Edna and Ray settled in East Lansing, Michigan where Ray continued his research and became a faculty member of Michigan State University Medical School.

At Michigan State University Mary Edna earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in the field of continuing education and worked teaching in the medical school. Following the death of her husband, she moved to Denver, Colorado. She worked for the University of Colorado until her retirement. She then moved East and became a resident of the Teaticket section of Falmouth on the Cape. There she enjoyed many new friendships and involvements in church and civic activities.

Mary Edna will long be remembered for her commitment to her faith, to her family and to her friends. As a couple, Mary Edna and Ray met life's challenges with grace, dignity and humor. They were serious about their work and counted their greatest accomplishment as being the proud parents of six children.

She leaves her children, Sharon Lynn Fagenholz of Weston, Ray E. Helfer, Jr. (Sara) of London, England, Christopher D. Helfer (Lisa) of Alamo, California, Jennifer T. Helfer of Weston, David J. Helfer (Heather) of Alamo, California; her daughter-in-law, Susan Johnson of Dallas, Texas; her sisters, Catherine Robinson of Seminole, Florida and Rosella Stock of Severna Park, Maryland; fourteen grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and several nieces and nephews.

Mary Edna was also the mother of the late Jeffrey P. Helfer and mother-in-law of the late Robert Fagenholz.

Family and friends will honor and remember Mary Edna's life by gathering for her Funeral Mass at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 5th in Saint Julia Church, 374 Boston Post Road, Weston. The following Saturday, Mary Edna will be laid to rest beside Ray at Mount Hope Cemetery, Lansing, Michigan.

In lieu of flowers memorials may be made to The Friends of the Ray E. Helfer Society, 350 Poplar Avenue, Elmhurst, IL 60126 or at


Condolence & Memory Journal

I was saddened to hear about your mom this morning. My mother, Rita Echt told me. She cared a lot about both of your parents, as did my father, Robert Echt. Your mother was so lovely.

Posted by Linda Echt - Watertown, MA   May 13, 2018

Our family will always cherish the connection to your family. Mary Edna was there for us always. She showed up for the good times and for the bad times, always with a huge smile and a laugh.

Posted by Laura Fulginiti - Phoenix, AZ   May 07, 2018

Mary Edna was a beautiful person! Her love of family & friends was inspirational. We went through many happy and sad life events together. Her friendship was such a joy & comfort. Though we all miss you, I pray you have joined your beautiful mother you gently cared for over the years, your beloved husband Ray and your beloved son Jeff. Don't lose that beautiful Irish smile! Peggy

Posted by Peggy Kingry - East Lansing, MI - Family Friend   May 07, 2018

We are so sad and sorry to hear about Mary Edna. The Helfers helped me both personally and professionally. I have such fond memories of them. I loved some of the parties that Mary Edna and Ray hosted.
They introduced us to a lakeside cottage near Battle Creek. My son Raj, when he was 4-5 years old was a fan of David and they would run around this lake.
Roshni, Thiru and Raj

Posted by Roshni Kulkarni - Okemos, MI - Friend   May 07, 2018

I remember Mary Edna a a wonderful friend and faculty wife as we all worked to build a new medical school and raise our young families in East Lansing. She had a great smile and sense of humor. I treasure her memory.

Posted by Claire Kohrman - Chicago, IL - Friend   May 05, 2018


Mary Edna was a Falmouth friend and a member of my bridge group. We had many enjoyable games together over the past few years. Mary Edna was competitive, but she did not gloat when she was successful, nor did she criticize her partner when she was not successful. She simply enjoyed the game and enjoyed the company she played with. Mary Edna was more to me than a bridge companion. She was a friend, When my wife had knee replacement surgery, Mary Edna brought us a fully cooked home cooked meal to ease our burdens. That's the type of caring person she was. There is a stereotype of a bridge player as a staid dull person, but Mary Edna was anything but dull. I recall, surprisingly, but then not so surprisingly seeing Mary Edna on St. Patrick's Day at Liam Mcguire's Pub celebrating her Irish heritage by singing along with Liam as he belted out the Wild Irish Rover. I will miss Mary Edna at the bridge table and I will miss her on St. Patrick's day at Liam's, but I will mostly miss her as a friend. - Skip McCormack

Posted by Skip McCormack - East Falmouth, MA - Friend   May 05, 2018

Thinking of you and joining you in remembering your mom. She was a very special woman who I had the great pleasure to work for. She was a humane leader and treated people with respect. I will treasure all my wonderful memories of working in the CME Office with her.

Posted by Emily Dalley - East Lansing, MI - Friend   May 04, 2018

Sad to hearGood friends from the old days. Will there be any service here in Lansing. Old friends asking .
Don Kaufman

Posted by A friend   May 04, 2018

To the family and friends of Mary Edna and Ray,
They are two persons that Jim and I most admired. Both were exemplary employees of Michigan State University and kind friends to colleagues. They live in our memories and may memories of them bring you comfort and peace.

Kay Trosko

Posted by A friend   May 04, 2018

Mary Edna and Ray are two persons that Jim and I most admired. Both were exemplary employees of Michigan State University. They live in our memories and may memories of them bring you comfort and peace.

Kay Trosko

Posted by Kay Trosko - Okemos, MI   May 04, 2018

to the Helfer family, Your parents were amazing people. I had the pleasure of working with both of them at MSU. Dr. Helfer took care of my daughter and I worked with your mom in CME. Keep their memories close.

Posted by Kim Camp - East Lansing, MI   May 04, 2018

We'll remember our weekly dinners, of which Mary Edna was a special part.

May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you peace.

Based upon Numbers - 6:24-26

Posted by Dale and Paul Kapp - Teaticket, MA - neighbor   May 03, 2018

To my dear kind friend Mary Edna, we shared such fun and wonderful times together, I will miss You always. I know you are with God and your loving family . God Bless YouPat P.

Posted by Patricia Pisano - Falmouth, MA - friend   May 03, 2018

My thoughts and prayers are with your family during this difficult time. May the promise in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 comfort your family.

Posted by A friend   May 02, 2018

The best memories are of Thanksgiving dinners at her home in East Lansing. She did every thing with grace, joy and humor. A privilege to have called her my friend. Love and prayers to her family.

Posted by Kathleen Helmrath - Powell, OH - Friend   May 02, 2018

Our family remembers Mrs. Helfer at Weston baseball games and Weston High School theater events. A lovely lady.

Diane, Jessica and Jonny Young

Posted by Diane Young - Weston, MA - Acquaintance   May 02, 2018

You will be missed Mary Edna.

Scott, Carolyn, Grayson, Chase, & Kona

Posted by Scott W Johnson - San Rafael, CA - Family Friend   May 01, 2018

Mary will always be a special person to us. Many fond memories from our Bramble Drive neighborhood. She and Ray were especially great friends in helping us cope with the death of our son Greg. We will always be gratefull to her for that time. Unfortunately, she then had to grieve the loss of her own son, Jeff. We will certainly miss her and remember her fondly. Pat and Roz

Posted by Patrick and Roz SARTORIUS - Westminster, CO - Family Friend   May 01, 2018

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