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ATLANTIC LIVES: Remembering St. John’s woman Helen Molloy, who raised morale with spirited storytelling and piano playing


She had a smile and a sharp sense of humour that could light up any room.

“You never knew when Aunt Helen was coming, but you knew when she’d arrived. All the evidence was there: the sound of high heels on hardwood; the faint sillage of Chanel No. 5; the trace of hot pink lipstick on the rim of a white coffee mug,” said Kyle Mooney, while paying tribute to his aunt, Helen (Frances) Molloy.

Molloy, a St. John’s resident, was a loving and caring aunt, sister, and great friend to many, always full of life and fun.

She inherited the gift of music from her father and could silence any crowd with a chord.

“Helen was very active in the St. Patrick’s church concerts and was exceptionally musical with her piano playing. She entertained the old folks in nursing homes, bringing joy into their lives, and in the quiet of her home, she enjoyed reading (biography) books,” Father Kevin Molloy recalled of his sister.

“To four-year-old me, Aunt Helen’s visits were a flurry of faux furs, menthol cigarettes, and Wrigley’s spearmint gum; of strong coffee, and loud piano, with a bass-heavy left hand that drove Mom nuts.”

She was a vibrant and talented performer, described as “larger than life” by friends.

“To four-year-old me, Aunt Helen’s visits were a flurry of faux furs, menthol cigarettes, and Wrigley’s spearmint gum; of strong coffee, and loud piano, with a bass-heavy left hand that drove Mom nuts,” Mooney reflected, recalling fond childhood memories of his aunt.

“Musically and otherwise, Aunt Helen was an improviser. She loved clip-on earrings; if she only had one to wear, she’d cover the other ear with her hair. When she couldn’t figure out how to reset her digital clock for daylight savings, she unplugged it for an hour so it would reset automatically at midnight.

“A masterful raconteur, Aunt Helen used every device in her command to bring the characters of her stories to life. With a performative flair, she told us about the parrot on Power Street who cursed at her; the bird that died while under her care; her cat, Smoky, who snatched her boyfriend’s toupee clear off his head for sitting in her chair...”

During each story, Mooney said his aunt’s “eye movements and impassioned gestures” would make those listening forget the many times the tale had been told before.

“Having taken just one trip in her life – a fabulous weekend in Montreal – St. John’s was the setting for Aunt Helen’s many stories. Through her renderings, I saw the city as it was before dealerships and strip malls and subdivisions; the days when the cries of newsboys rang through downtown and milkmen dotted the sidewalks; when pianos bore the burns of discarded cigarettes, and the keys stuck together with the sugar of spilled drinks.

“When Aunt Helen died, the St. John’s she so vividly evoked died right along with her, as did her piano playing and entrancing storytelling technique. She insisted that her date of birth appear nowhere in her obituary, funeral program, or grave marker to ensure that—like every tale she ever told—the story of her life would be one that would keep us all guessing until the very end.”

Molloy, always bold and bubbly, passed away with dignity and grace on Friday, Jan. 24.

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