On Monday, June 4, Tom and Mary Conaghan, who raised their family in the Willows Mansion as caretakers there, closed the doors of Radnor Township-owned property for the last time.
The couple retired together — Tom as caretaker, Mary as director — of the rental facility after 32 years.
Over the decades they said they met so many township residents, made friendships with fellow employees and got attached to the people who would rent the mansion out regularly.
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The Grand Old Lady
Over the years the Conaghans cared for the house with the resources they were given, and fought for improvements to keep it competitive in the rental space market.
Even now, moved out and retired, the two lend their passionate opinions about the mansion and its uncertain future.
“This house is the property of the people of Radnor Township,” Tom said. “Those who administer are obligated to take care of it.”
In 2010, township manager Bob Zienkowski ordered the mansion to stop taking bookings for 2012. He has said that the township is not the best entity that should be running the mansion.
Although the mansion started taking bookings again in late 2011, a lot of bookings — and revenue — had been lost.
Mary said the uncertain future of the mansion played a part in the couple’s decision to leave.
And according to Tom, the township’s ongoing conversations about “partnering” with other organizations to run the mansion is more than just that.
“’Partnering’ is just another word for ‘giving away’,” he said.
‘A Way For Us To Rebuild’
When the Conaghans moved from their native County Donegal in Ireland to the United States they were looking for better opportunities.
The ability to live rent-free in the mansion in exchange for Tom’s maintenance of it allowed the couple a way for them to “rebuild” a new life, they said.
They raised three daughters in the four-bedroom third floor of the mansion. The apartment also includes a kitchen, dining room, living room with fireplace and two bathrooms.
In 2004 Mary joined Tom in working there as the director of the mansion. She booked the events, handled caterers and renters and helped Tom clean up after the events.
The two say that cleaning up twenty years ago was more difficult than it was recently: people drank more, smoked inside and stayed up later (there was no rental curfew), so that many a night Tom and Mary would be cleaning the Grand Old Lady in the wee hours of the morning.
Tom said that some of his best memories from living in the Willows mansion are the views of the estate that he experienced when bright moons reflected on the pond or on glistening snow in early morning hours.
Sometimes full moons would shine into their bedrooms; views from those rooms sweep over the grounds to Darby-Paoli Road.
Tom said there was many “mystical” moments there.
So, where will the Conaghans move on to after living in such a beautiful setting? They have found an old country house with character and acreage in Glen Mills.
It’s sort of like a “mini Willows,” they said.
They might move back to Ireland one day, but with a beloved grandchild here, “You’d be leaving your family,” they said. And they’ve already done that once.
They hope they are leaving the Willows mansion in hands of people who will love and care for it. Although they no longer live in Radnor, they will continue to care about it, they said.
“There are some things worth spending a little money on, and this is one of them,” Tom said of the mansion.
“We’re part of a long history of Irish people who worked in the home,” he said. “It’s been a privilege to live here.”