Mary Ellen Lackey, 82, of Shawnee OK, passed away on the morning of April 28th, 2020 having lived a very profound, and adventurous life. She was one of the rare few that not only dreamed of an interesting life… she lived out loud and squeezed all the juice that life had to offer until the very end.
Mary Ellen’s journey began in 1937, born in Washington D.C. to Hamilton & Alice Sweeney, and was the oldest of 5 children. Her family can trace their roots in Washington DC as far back as the late 1770’s. A portion of her early childhood, During WWII, she and her family lived in Queens NY while her Father was stationed there in the Army and they made their way back to Wash D.C. after the war.
She has shared many stories of growing up as a tomboy that could always be found on her roller-skates or a bicycle -- OR on her bicycle WITH her roller-skates on, roaming the neighborhood. She was a self-professed strong willed & minded student attending Catholic school her entire life. After graduating from Notre Dame all-girls Catholic High School, where she gave the Nuns a run for their money, she enrolled and put herself through and graduated from St. Agnes School of Nursing in Baltimore MD, where she became a Registered Nurse with stories that were both entertaining and fascinating of a medical system of that time.
While in Baltimore she met her husband, William (Bill) Lackey, a salesman, from Kimbell, W.V. After they married, they had 3 sons, William (Skip) Lackey, Jr., Scott Lackey and Shawn Lackey.
In her early 30’s while being the head Nurse at multiple nursing homes, Mary Ellen became fascinated with, and trained in the art of Astrology, which put her firmly on a path of self-discovery that dominated the rest of her colorful life.
In 1971, She and her husband Bill, moved the family south to Little Rock AR, where he became one of the 4 original people working for a company that eventually became Federal Express. During that time, she stepped away from Nursing to explore other interests like mediation, personal growth modalities of all kinds as she focused on raising her 3 teen-aged sons.
Mary Ellen was a person that would see a problem as an opportunity to be solved. During that time in her life, she boldly refused to accept that one of her sons, that had been diagnosed with a mild case of dyslexia would have to attend a boarding school, hours away from home for some support. She founded the “P.R.E.P. School” for children with learning challenges with other parents dealing with the same issue with no local solution. After that, she was drawn back to further her education by getting her Master’s Degree (Summa Kum Laude) in Psychiatric Social Work from the UALR (University of Arkansas Little Rock). With her new MSW degree, she started a “holistic” therapy practice helping clients from the perspective of treating the whole person, before “holistic” was even a thing. Also, during that time in Little Rock, she developed an interest in politics, offering support to a young Bill Clinton when he was Lt. Governor and when he ran for Governor of Arkansas. After he was elected President, she was invited to attend one of the Inauguration Balls. Clinton had been a guest of the Lackey’s in their home on a number of occasions. Later in life, that passion spilled over into helping organize and participate in numerous marches and protests in and around OKC. She used to say… ”you don’t mess with an angry Grandma”! Her intellect made her a formidable foe when it came to her strong liberal opinions and was a constant source of discussion in several Lackey households. Along the way, while helping her husband launch a number of successful business’, and raising her sons, she found herself being pulled to go to Calcutta India to work with Mother Teresa, in her leper colony, who she prophetically considered a “living saint”. During this time, she had found interest in Hinduism and Buddhism, which took her on a different spiritual journey within, she then spent time with spiritual seekers and icons such as the Dalai Lama, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, David Hawkins, Guru Maya Chidvilasananda, and many more around the world. She found herself deeply diving into the study of all religions and practices.
In 1985, her husband Bill was killed in a Delta airplane disaster in Dallas which caused her life, as she knew it, to come crashing down. She was devastated by the loss of the love of her life after 25 years of marriage and after her mourning, she rose like a Phoenix to find an inner strength that she never quite knew she had. She then took over the business that she and her husband were launching, an Oil & Gas Investment company that was drilling in OK and Texas and grabbed the proverbial bull by the horns and became a very successful independent wildcat drilling and development company in a predominately male industry in Oklahoma. Needless to say, being a Woman in that industry, at that time, was a rarity. She reveled in the competitiveness of besting her male counterparts. Once successful, she chose to pursue her spiritual life once again. This time as a Buddhist. She found her teacher, dzogchen master, Llama Tharchin Rinpoche and considered becoming a Llama (Buddhist Nun). This eventually led her to live in an ashram just outside of Santa Cruz CA. She studied with him for several years in retreat. She also found herself traveling to places like Japan, and Nepal where she sponsored a Monastery of Tibetan Nuns. Her heart was as wide as the world and she was known for being a wise and helpful being to many, freely giving sharing her gained wisdom with friends and family along her way. When she left the monastery, she continued her spiritual journey, diving deep into as many traditions and teachings as possible while moving to Shawnee OK to be near her 2 youngest sons. She built a life for herself in Shawnee and continued to travel for her personal growth and also traveling frequently.
Other interesting things about her later-in-life was that she loved being a grandmother, and great-grandmother. She was a wonderful and loyal friend, an avid advice giver, liberal democrat, Christmas cookie making master, fine artist - even though she never thought she was. She was part of an artists co-operative and was always thrilled that her work was appreciated during the Shawnee Art Museum fund raiser. She loved interior design and remodeled multiple homes and had exquisite taste. One of her houses though the years was featured on the cover of “Southern Living” Magazine. And if there was really one thing that was a constant of her life, it was that she was an avid student of philosophy, personal development, and new age teachings and the religions from around the world. It was something that you could find her talking about for hours on end. If it was out there… she either knew of it, had tried it or had a strong opinion of it.
We could go on and on about her accomplishments and the hearts that she has touched along the way, and the bottom line is that she as an inspiration to the many people that she came to know . She will be greatly missed and was the world a little bit better for her being in it? I know that from those that really knew her… it would be a resounding YES! Her legacy is in her sons… Skip Lackey of Boulder CO. Scott Lackey and Shawn Lackey of Shawnee OK. Stepson, Larry Lackey of Charleston WV. We also want to acknowledge her stepson Michael Lackey from Myrtle Beach SC, who passed away several years ago. Her Sister and Brother-in-law Rita and Bob Daniel of Rehoboth DE, and her brothers Terry Sweeney of Columbia MD, Kevin Sweeney of MD and Timothy Sweeney of Wash DC (deceased). Lots of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews (and other beautiful souls from a number of blended families, too many to mention) and a lot of longtime friends that have been like family that will greatly miss her spirit, intellect and passion for knowledge and her heart.
Because of the current crisis, the family will have a celebration of her amazing life in both Shawnee OK and Little Rock AR, where her ashes will be placed next to her late husband. This will take place sometime this summer when “social distancing” is not an issue. The family wants to be able to come together and hug and lift a glass to commemorate the final leg of her journey.
Mary Ellen Sweeney Lackey -- May you ride on the wings of angels to your final resting place alongside your husband Bill… you earned it. Your life was well lived and you were an inspiration to us all. We love you and will always remember you now and forever.