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We pay tribute to local Wimbledon-resident Maria Keaveney-Jessiman who has died at age 96.  As a great advocate for the education of young children and the founder of our local Eveline Day & Nursery Schools across SW London and raising money for worthy charities, Darling Magazine wanted to share her life story and amazing contribution to our community. 

Born and raised in Galway, Maria Keaveney-Jessiman moved to London after starting early life working as a nurse in Scotland. Here, she took up a career in the Civil Service, working for the Ministry of Health. It was in London too, she met and married her husband Alf. Three children followed, a daughter Eveline and twin sons Justin and Gordon. 

Whilst caring for her young children, she decided to start a child-minding service from the family home in Tooting. A Health Inspector, so impressed by the level of care provided, suggested that she consider opening a nursery. Hence, in 1964 the first Eveline Day Nursery was opened in Huron Road, Tooting. 

At a time where young mothers were expected to stay at home, Marie Keaveney-Jessiman believed that those who wanted to work should be able too. In addition, they should have access to nurseries that were essentially an ‘extension of the home’. She wanted to create and offer a nurturing environment where children could grow and develop. With this progressive mind set and joined by her husband in business, she went on to open 7 more nurseries across South West London.

A start in schooling

A school was a natural progression and in 1989 The Eveline Day School opened in Balham. Today, the school is headed by her daughter Eveline, and the nurseries are still a family-run business. The involvement of the different generations is a sure sign of the passion for education passed on by Maria.

Maria continued to be actively involved in the running of the nurseries and school into her nineties. Her significant impact on the education of the young was recognised in 2018 when she received the ‘Outstanding Contribution Award’ from the National Day Nursery Association. Furthermore, and only days before her passing, she was awarded the ultimate honour- an MBE for services to education in the Queen’s New Year’s Honour list.

Throughout her life, Maria was also an avid supporter of various charities close to her heart. This includes local charity Rianna’s Fund. And during the lockdown of 2020, aged 95, she surpassed her own fundraising challenge by climbing 100,000 steps at home, raising money for Rianna’s Fund, Winston’s Wish and NHS charities.

She will be deeply missed by her family– including daughter Eveline and son Gordon and his wife Maria, her grandchildren, Addie, Kelsey, Kelly, Ryan, Lucy, Aimee and Sean and many great grandchildren and also, her sisters: Terry, Gina and Blanche as well as her extended family, friends and colleagues at Eveline Day Nursery Schools.

For those who wish to make a donation in memory of Marie Keaveney-Jessiman, the family have reopened the previous Just Giving fundraising page for her chosen charities.

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