Marilyn Bailey: Bridge City born and raised
The childhood of Marilyn Bailey, now Marilyn McKeown, was a happy, peaceful one. Raised on the Cow Bayou, playing under the trees and living by the water has not left her memory all the years she has been grown and gone. Her parents, Joe and Evelyn Bailey were founders of what was once known as Prairie View. Though roaming Indian tribes and various others had used the area for decades prior to their settlement, the Baileys came to stay.
Though Marilyn no longer lives in Bridge City, a piece of her heart remains here. On a recent visit to the area to visit family and friends, she wistfully recalled her childhood on the water’s edge.
“It was a wonderful childhood,” She recounts with a soft-spoken voice. “Sundays we would take the back roads to my grandmother’s house. My father would put me on his lap and let me drive while he worked the pedals.”
She talks about playing with her cousin, Johnny Montagne, who is still a local resident along the waters of Cow Bayou. She also recalls the all of the firsts of Bridge City, as her parents were some of the first few families to set up shop and see Bridge City as a potential residential establishment. They, of course, established Bailey’s Fish Camp in 1921, the first business to have a gas pump. Her mother, Evelyn, is credited with having built the first funeral home, Claybar’s.
“I remember my parents going to work by boat every day.” This was prior to the bridges being built which earned Bridge City its current name.
Marilyn also attended the first elementary school, built where the current high school is now seated.
“All the schools were built there, right together,” she said. “I received a wonderful education here. They hired a lot of young teachers fresh out of college. They were excited and used a lot of innovating methods.”
After her days in Bridge City she attended Lamar University. She married Denis McKeown, of Australia, who was a professional tennis player and spent many months traveling the tennis circuit, with children in tow.
“It was tough but it was also an adventure,” Marilyn says smiling.
Denis adds, ”Marilyn made it good for the children. She would take them to museums and art galleries where ever we went.”
The family lived in a motor home for those times.
“Three children, one dog, one cat, bikes and skates.”
The couple look at each other as they remember their time on the road. Years and two more children later, Marilyn finds herself a resident of Australia. Though she continued to travel and live in a variety of places, including Vienna, Austria where her husband coached tennis, she has permanently settled in the Land-Down-Under.
As much as it is a struggle to move and be away from ones home, Marilyn’s struggles took on a much heavier burden. For eight years she was confined to a wheelchair, unable to move on her own strength. This happen to her prior to the McKeowns moving out of the country. A misdiagnosis of her ailment meant many more painful conditions and the confinement.
She was treated with a variety of medicines because of the vast opinions of the various doctors from whom she received treatment.
Once in Australia and continually undergoing procedures to find some kind of relief, they found a doctor in Queensland that correctly diagnosed and treated what turned out to be Hashimodo’s Hypothyroidism. Marilyn’s determined mind-set and the internet lead her to discover the condition and the matching symptoms as well as support groups. Also leading her to her current physician.
“In her case, the medicines she was taking were actually making her condition worse,” explains Denis, “We started going to him in 1998 and by 1999 she was out of the wheelchair.”
His frustration with the suffering his wife had to go through is evident and understandable.
Still, Bridge City is home. The moss hanging from the trees, the wind blowing the reeds and her favorite oak are just relaxing. She checks out the current local news online at www.therecordlive.com. She even visited after Hurricane Ike took its toll on the area.
“I always get tears in my eyes as I come over the bridge. I love Bridge City, it’s a part of me.” She says she tried to imagine all of it being under water explaining how even the familiar landmarks she always followed to travel around were gone when she returned, “I couldn’t even recognize roads!”
The discussion leads back to her home as a child. “I wish I had the money to buy it. My mother had put it in her will that it was to be donated to the city if I didn’t live.” The area is of historical significance to Bridge City and is currently being considered the perfect place for a waterfront park.
In 2010 the City of Bridge City, along with board members of the Historical Museum of Bridge City, developed a plan to acquire the property, adjacent to the swinging bridge on 87, and envision opening a family oriented waterfront park there as a historical, cultural and environmental event location. It will be a multi-purpose facility.
Adjoining the swinging bridge property would also connect it with the National Registration of Historical Places, as the bridge made that list in 2009. The plans would be ideal for all types of events all year around. Plans include an amphitheater, playgrounds and a boardwalk. There will also be period-style lighting, trails, floral gardens and concessions.
It being located on the water gives boaters and fishermen access also making it a great area for tournaments, festivals and reunions. Planners currently foresee an annual Heritage Festival among other event possibilities. The park would be a showplace for the town named because of its bridges. A place for families to gather, for children to be educated on their heritage, a place to relax, to remember. It was just this type of place for Marilyn.
Her smile is evidence that she loves her hometown. She speaks about it with great sense of peace. Though she doesn’t expect to make a return trip again soon or maybe ever, her heritage and the fingerprints of her parents mark every business simply because they stayed, played and lived here.
“I can tell you this,” she smiles, “we do have cardinals in our window in Australia and Longhorns on our wall.” That about covers it. Bridge City and Texas, born and bred.