Alice (Britton) Meehan - the matriarch of a family of seven children, including a former US congressman; 18 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren - died yesterday at her home in Chelmsford after a six-month battle with cancer. She was 78.
"Everyone called her Sissy, from the time her father gave her that nickname as a child to until she grew up," said her son, Mark of Tyngsborough.
Mrs. Meehan was married for 51 years to Martin T. "Buster" Meehan, a compositor for 43 years for the Lowell Sun, who died in 2000.
Their son, Martin Meehan of Andover, recalled yesterday that both his parents campaigned for him in his first bid for Congress from the Fifth Congressional District in 1992, visiting senior centers and other venues to tell folks why they should vote for their son.
"Mother had extraordinarily high energy," Marty Meehan, now chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, said yesterday. "She loved life to the fullest and was always the life of the party. She had a lot of self-confidence and would get people singing and dancing and having a good time. I think she instilled a lot of that in her children."
She also was very organized, he said, and a disciplinarian while her children were growing up. She always had four loads of laundry folded and put away before the family came home each night.
She was born and raised in the Swede Village section of Lowell, her family said, one of seven children of Everette and Alice (Higgins) Britton. She graduated in 1947 from Lowell High School.
After she and Martin married, the family lived on London Street in Lowell for more than 40 years. Their children grown, the Meehans moved to Chelmsford about 10 years ago.
The former congressman said his mother was "not particularly political"; her main interest was her children and grandchildren. But she enjoyed campaigning for her son and attending the Clinton inaugurations and other events in Washington while he was in office, Meehan said.
In 1993, the Globe reported that Mrs. Meehan had received a call at her Lowell home from Air Force One. Her son was flying back to Washington with President Clinton after the president's visit to Boston and said he could not resist calling his mom. She was perhaps surprised but not at all flustered.
Though his mother had always "lived life to the fullest," Marty Meehan said, "the light in her life was never so bright after the devastating loss of our dad."
Besides her sons Mark and Marty, Mrs. Meehan leaves another son, Paul of Tyngsborough; four daughters, Colleen Turco of Chelmsford, Kathleen Meehan-Bailey of Lowell, Mary Carnevale of Lowell, and Maureen Meehan-Gilet of Tyngsborough; a brother, Francis Britton of Lowell; a sister, Patricia Britton of Lowell; 18 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
A Mass will be said at 9 a.m. Friday in St. Mary's Church in Chelmsford. Burial will be in St. Patrick's Cemetery in Lowell.