Advocate for elderly founded Grandparents Day

Times Staff Writer

Marian McQuade, an advocate of care for the elderly who founded National Grandparents Day after years of petitioning governors, members of Congress and presidents to support her cause, has died. She was 91.

McQuade, who had 43 grandchildren, died Friday of heart failure at a nursing home in Hilltop, W.Va., her daughter D.J. McQuade Lancaster said.

She began her campaign for a day honoring grandparents in the early 1970s, decades after she first visited nursing homes and the home-bound elderly. As a girl, she would go with her grandmother to take food and small gifts to senior neighbors. Many of them had no other friends nearby.


“It’s not for grandparents like me to get presents,” McQuade said of her idea for a National Grandparents Day in a 2003 interview with The Times. “It’s to alleviate some loneliness.”

McQuade’s home state of West Virginia was the first to embrace her idea, in 1973. By then, she had raised her 15 children and was devoting most of her time to helping the elderly. At her request, the state’s first Grandparents Day celebration was held the first Sunday after Labor Day. The next year, after McQuade petitioned leaders in government, business and senior citizens organizations around the country, 22 states celebrated Grandparents Day. Then came the setbacks.

She was disappointed when some states marked the occasion one year but not the next. Although West Virginia’s then-Sen. Jennings Randolph sponsored a proclamation for Grandparents Day that passed in the Senate, it failed in the House of Representatives.

“I wrote and wrote and wrote, I called and called,” McQuade said in a 1997 interview with West Virginia’s Charleston Gazette, about how she pushed ahead. She formed a committee of volunteers, many of them members of her church who worked with her in the church basement.

As momentum picked up, a greeting card company offered to pay McQuade royalties if she would help sell their Grandparents Day cards. She refused. Her ideas about how to celebrate the day included homemade cards, family reunions and visits to grandparents and nursing homes.

“My mother was adamant that the day not be commercialized,” McQuade’s daughter Ruth said this week. “To her, that would make it seem less genuine.”


The year before McQuade reached her goal, a businessman from Georgia called her with his plan to set up a grandparents council and put her name at the top of it. She agreed, but then found out it was a marketing scheme that included tie-ins to florists and booksellers.

McQuade filed a lawsuit to disassociate herself, but the businessman died of a heart attack before her day in court and the council he formed faded away.

National Grandparents Day was approved by Congress in 1978 and signed into law by President Carter the next year. Her only comment at the time was, “I couldn’t believe it.”

She was born Marian Lucille Herndon on Jan. 18, 1917, in Caperton, W.Va., graduated from high school and entered nursing school but dropped out to marry her high school sweetheart, Joe McQuade, in 1936. He was a coal miner who later became president of a coal company.

When her youngest child finished high school, McQuade became a full-time volunteer, working with the state’s Vocational Rehabilitation Foundation, the Nursing Home Licensing Board and the West Virginia Commission on Aging, among other groups.

She ran for public office, first for a congressional seat in 1970 and then for the state Senate two years later, but was defeated both times.


In recent years, McQuade launched a website, www, with recommendations for school programs and updates on the Grandparents of the Year competition. Several family members got involved, including four of her children.

For the 10th anniversary of Grandparents Day, the Postal Service issued a commemorative envelope with McQuade’s portrait on it. By the 25th anniversary, in 2003, about 3 million Grandparents Day greeting cards were being sold each year.

McQuade is survived by a sister; two brothers; 13 children; 43 grandchildren; and a number of great-grandchildren. Her husband died in 2001.