Mary ‘Khaki’ Cotter Whelahan, 79, master gardener sought for her perennial expertise

Mary 'Khaki' Cotter Whelahan
Mary ‘Khaki’ Cotter Whelahan

Mary “Khaki” Cotter Whelahan, 79, beloved wife, mother, grandmother and friend, died Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. The daughter of Katherine Murphy and Rear Admiral Carl Henry Cotter, Khaki was born in Jacksonville, Florida, and was the first Navy baby to be born at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station.

In 1943, Khaki had the honor of serving as the flower girl for the launch of the SS Edgar W. Nye, a World War II-era Liberty ship. At the behest of the Navy and Admiral Cotter’s post-military career, the family moved from Florida to Norfolk; San Francisco, California; Washington, D.C.; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Scarsdale, New York, before settling in Charlotte, where Khaki attended Myers Park High School.

Khaki was graduated with honors from St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana, with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Home Economics in 1961. While at St. Mary’s, she served as a floor council representative and was elected social chairman. Khaki also met the love of her life, Ray Whelahan, a student at the nearby University of Notre Dame. Khaki and Ray were married Oct. 7, 1961, in Charlotte, North Carolina, honeymooned in Bermuda, then began their life together in Northern Virginia. Corporate moves relocated the family several times between Virginia and Connecticut, and with each move, Khaki made a beautiful home for her family and immersed herself in the community, making lifelong friendships.

While in college, Khaki discovered her love of travel when she, her sister and her mother spent summers traveling in Europe and the Caribbean. She always dreamed of going to Africa and was fortunate to realize that dream later in life by going on safari twice with her sister Patti.

Khaki always had a love of gardening, and, upon returning to Virginia Beach in 1983, she became an avid gardener. She was active in the Chelsea Green Hill Garden Club for many years and was also a member of the Tidewater Daylily Society. She became a master gardener and was a sought-after speaker on perennials at local garden clubs around Virginia Beach. Khaki’s award-winning garden was featured one year as part of the Historic Garden Week in Virginia. Her favorite part of gardening may have been dividing her perennials to give to her friends to plant in their gardens. Khaki also had an unerring eye for antiques, color and style, and enjoyed sharing her extraordinary artistic, needlework and decorating skills.

Her moves and experiences as a child and an adult surely contributed to her ability to relate to, understand and befriend many different kinds of people. She was unwavering in her devotion to those she loved, and her family and friendships were her greatest passion.

She is survived by her sister, Patricia Wilkie; daughter, Katie Schwab; son, Carl Whelahan (Daphne Ireland); daughter, Molly Ducker (John); and five grandsons, Henry and Ethan Schwab, Jack Whelahan, and Logan and Rowan Ducker.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 19, at Coastal Grill, 1440 N. Great Neck Road, Virginia Beach.

In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made in her name to the Tidewater Daylily Society.

Share online condolences with the family at H.D. Oliver Funeral Apts.

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