Essex – Gloria Jane Armstrong McKeen, 84, passed away on Wednesday, February 6, 2019.  Gloria was born on July 16, 1934 to Dana W. Armstrong and Elizabeth (Bagley) Armstrong in Machias, Maine, where she spent her early childhood.  After a brief stop in Kittery Point, Maine, her family settled in Portsmouth, N.H.  She met the love of her life, Benjamin W. McKeen, when they were members of the Civil Air Patrol during high school.  She graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1952 and married Ben on November 20, 1953.

During Ben’s time in the Air Force, Gloria and Ben lived in Cambridge and Somerville, Mass., then returned to Portsmouth, N.H.  When Ben was recruited to work for IBM in 1965 they relocated to Vermont.  They moved first to Burlington and then settled in Essex Town for over 50 years, with brief stints in Germany, Florida and Arizona.

Gloria held several jobs during her life including sales clerk, waitress, telephone operator, and Tupperware consultant, but the one that brought her the most joy was library assistant at Essex Elementary School.  Her 19 years in that position were filled with leading story times, helping children fall in love with books, caring for the menagerie of small animals in the media center, and developing many life long friendships with her colleagues.

In addition to her membership in the Civil Air Patrol, Gloria and Ben were active in many organizations. They belonged to the Green Mountain Steppers, Eastern Star, Saxon Hollow Association, and together they founded the Green Mountain Parkinson’s Support Group.  Gloria also belonged to the Champlain Valley Quilt Guild, Essex Historical Society and was a proud member of Therapy Dogs of Vermont with her dog, Boo.

Gloria’s faith was an important cornerstone throughout her life and she was a member of Essex United Methodist Church for the last 45 years. She participated in numerous groups and committees but was best known for leading Children’s Time with her wonderful stories and for the delicious apple pies she baked for the Chicken n’ Biscuit Dinners.  Even when her participation was limited due to physical constraints, she stayed involved through the Mansfield Bible Study.

While she devoted time to her community and organizations, nothing was more important to Gloria than her family and home.  She and Ben raised four children in a home filled with many pets and an abundance of love.  She took pride in her gardens, homemade pickles and piecrust.  She spent countless summer days with her children at the Sand Bar and encouraging them on hikes up Mount Mansfield.  She sewed dresses, hemmed pants, knit countless mittens, and created colorful quilts for her children and grandchildren.  She carefully chose picture books as gifts for family members and friends. She loved nothing better than spending time with her grandchildren and took great joy in their accomplishments.  Each grandchild and great grandchild had a special place in her heart that would shine in her smile when she shared their pictures and stories with visitors.

Gloria and Ben celebrated 54 years of marriage that included many adventures from building the family home on Old Stage Road, living in Germany for a year and exploring much of Europe with two teens in tow, bicycling and canoeing many roads and rivers, and playing Password, cribbage and bowling with their friends. Together they navigated Ben’s journey with Parkinson’s disease.  Gloria became Ben’s champion and biggest ally in living well with Parkinson’s and supported him fearlessly until his death in 2007.

Gloria is survived by her children, Diane McKeen Breeden & husband David, Cynthia “Cat” McKeen, Narda Carlson, Andrew McKeen & wife Cynthia, and honorary son, Chuck LaClair; her grandchildren, Riley Alexander, Rebecca Breeden Christians & husband Adam, Dana Breeden & fiancée Stephanie Livsey, Jeremy LaClair & wife Dana, Patrick LaClair & fiancée Margaret Kane, Brian LaClair, Daniel McKeen and Steven McKeen; her great-grandchildren, Irelend Alexander, Landon Alexander and Edith Christians.  She is also survived by her sisters, Rebecca Wylie and Judith Murphy; step-sister Lola Burns & partner Arthur Brunt, step-brother Larry Tanner& wife Theresa and in-laws Barbara McKeen, Anthony McKeen & wife Ginger, as well as cherished cousins, nieces and nephews. She was predeceased by Ben; her parents; her infant brother, Ronald Armstrong; grandchildren Stephanie McKeen and Kathryn McKeen; great-grandson Arthur Christians; son-in-law Scott Carlson and brothers-in-law, Donald McKeen, Robert Wylie and Robert Murphy.

The family would like to extend their gratitude to the staff and residents at Mansfield Place who filled the last four years of our Mom’s life with excellent care, comfort, friendship and laughter.

Per Gloria’s wishes there will be no visiting hours.  A memorial service will be held on Saturday, March 9, 2 p.m. at Essex United Methodist Church, Rt 15, Essex, Vt.   

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in Gloria’s memory to Therapy Dogs of Vermont or to the Children’s Literacy Foundation (CLiF).

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