She performed at company functions and benefits at her jobs, but didn’t turn pro until the early 1950s. By then, she was a mom who had been married, widowed, then remarried.
Ruth McCrary was still a teenager when she married Joseph Crowley, an Army sergeant stationed in Texas, and only 20 when he died during a training exercise in 1944.
Ruth didn’t know it yet, but she was pregnant with Joe, who was born in Boston after his mother returned to her family.
In 1948, she married high-school classmate James J. McMahon, who brought her to South Florida the next year. A Florida Power & Light lineman, McMahon died in 2002.
When she was 32, Ruth McMahon entered a talent contest at the Desert Inn, and won. Almost overnight, said her son, she went from “Hialeah housewife to professional.”
In 1989, she told a Miami Herald reporter: “I traded my apron strings for a mike cord.”
McMahon was active for years with PROPS: Planned Retirement of Performers, a social group of women connected to show business that staged charity revues and roasts.
During a 1985 birthday tribute to Peppy Fields, a South Florida legend who hosted a talk show on WKAT radio, McMahon quipped that “the biggest secret of the century is Peppy’s age. “She always said she was in her late earlies.”
Ruth McMahon had no such qualms. Her son said that at Senior Idol, someone asked: “How old are you, young lady?”
She answered: “This old broad is 90.”
Crowley is certain his mom could have become a much bigger star, but insists she “never regretted a moment” of her life.
“I said, ‘In the hands of a manager, you would have gone a lot further.’ She said, ‘I enjoyed what I did.’”
In addition to son Joe, of Pembroke Pines, Ruth McMahon is survived by daughter Janice Dover of Toccoa, Ga., and son Kevin McMahon of Bunnell, Fla.
Visitation is scheduled for 4 to 7p.m. Monday at Fred Hunter’s Hollywood Memorial Gardens Home, 6301 Taft St. Cremation will follow.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be said at 10 a.m. Tuesday at St. Maximilian Kolbe Roman Catholic Church, 701 N. Hiatus Rd., Pembroke Pines.
Loved ones will then hold a celebration of McMahon’s life, featuring videos of her performances, at the Pembroke Lakes Country Club.