Dorothy McGarry on her 80th birthday in 2006. McGarry liked celebrating her birthday on July 4, and had a tradition of waking her family that day every year by blasting patriotic music through their house.

Photo provided by the McGarry family

Dorothy McGarry thought it was never too early to teach kids poker, so her 13 grandchildren started getting lessons from her when most were 5 or so years old.

Then again, McGarry didn’t believe in people getting too old for poker either, which is why she was a regular in her favorite Atlantic City casino poker rooms into her 80s.

But McGarry, of Egg Harbor Township, had to quit the casino games when she got sick a few years ago. She died last month at 85.

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She was into poker long before she and her husband, Jim, moved to South Jersey from Levittown, Pa., where they raised seven kids. Three of their daughters were living near Atlantic City and working in the casinos when the parents moved to the area in 1996, but Jim died a few months later.

Back in Levittown, Dorothy used to play cards at the family’s Catholic church or host poker parties at home.

“And at family reunions, all my uncles would sit around and play poker, and my mom would be the only woman there with them,” said daughter Diane Dixon, her mom’s neighbor in a sort of family compound in Egg Harbor Township — another daughter, Barbara Wallowitch, said she and her sister/neighbor, Dixon, lived just a “football field away” from their mom.

McGarry’s kids all know poker mattered to her — so much, they included her poker nickname, “Darby,” at the start of her obituary. They aren’t sure how she picked it, but Dixon does know that “she always hated her real name, so she gave herself an alias.”

Still, for all she liked poker, she had much more going on in her life. She had that full house of kids — now ages 47 to 63 — and then all their kids. Plus she was very patriotic, and enjoyed sharing a birthday with her country.

“You couldn’t have found a better person to be born on the Fourth of July,” said daughter Debbie Stevenson, of Egg Harbor Township. “Her charity of choice was always disabled veterans. ... And as a young girl, she thought the (July 4) fireworks were just for her.”

Darby had a habit of waking her family up every July 4 by blasting patriotic music — mostly John Philip Sousa marches. Her daughters said music was always big to her: She loved all kinds, and when one son, Michael, had a classic rock band, the McGarry family room was its practice spot for years.

Darby loved sports and was a long-suffering fan of the Philadelphia Phillies and “those damn Eagles,” Wallowitch said, using her mom’s old phrase. She also loved watching “Jeopardy” and playing Scrabble, often with the grandchildren.

And as much as she enjoyed her casino poker, she also loved family games for little or no money. Because to this poker-playing grandmom, anything was more fun with the family in on it.

A Life Lived appears Tuesdays and Saturdays.

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