MISSOULA — Molly Burke Herrin, 93, died Sept. 29 at Edgewood Vista in Missoula.
Born May 29, 1926, in Conrad to Catherine Giudici Burke and George Francis Burke, first-generation Americans, she was the younger of two sisters. As a child during the Depression, Molly lived in the western towns where her father's work took him. George Burke was an oil field superintendent, a millwright and later a civil engineer employed by the federal government. In 1933 the Burkes fled Long Beach, California, after an earthquake killed 120 people there and destroyed buildings throughout the region. They settled in Helena, Montana, where in 1935 an earthquake killed four people and toppled a number of public buildings, including the brand-new high school, and damaged the grade school attended by Molly and her older sister, Mary.
Shortly after the U.S. declared war on Germany and Japan the Burkes moved to Tacoma, Washington, where Molly’s father was employed in the construction of the water and sanitation systems for Fort Lewis. He was then transferred by the Federal Works Agency to Bremerton, Washington. Molly attended half-day shifts at Bremerton High School, where Bill Gates Sr. served as junior class president. She worked part-time selling men’s clothing at Sears. In 1943 the family was living in Seattle when Molly dropped out of high school to work as a riveter fabricating B29 bombers. Her sister and her mother joined her on the assembly line at Boeing’s massive Plant Number Two, which had been camouflaged to look from the air like a residential neighborhood.
Following the war Molly went to night school to earn a General Education Diploma, which she was awarded by Bremerton High School. She enrolled as a history major at the University of Washington. In 1945 she transferred to the University of Montana. She was elected president of her residence hall, and was inducted into Theta Sigma Phi, the journalism honor society for women, and Kappa Tau, an exclusive scholastic honor society. In 1949 she graduated with a degree in journalism and was hired by the United Press as a reporter, an unusual achievement at the time for a woman. Later that year she reported on the Mann Gulch fire near the Missouri River north of Helena, which killed 13 firefighters on August 5. Her interview with the survivors went out on the UP wire to subscribing newspapers all over the world, and she was awarded a rare byline by her editors.
In October of 1949 she resigned from the UP and married Keith Herrin. The couple resided at the Herrin Hereford Ranch outside Helena, where Mr. Herrin’s parents and the families of two of his brothers lived as well. The Herrin clan raised Hereford bulls, beef cattle and sheep and later branched out into potatoes and sugar beets. Keith and Molly had six children, five girls and a boy, all of whom attended the Warren School a mile from the ranch.
Besides keeping the ranch books, Molly served as the clerk of the Warren School board and worked as a Lewis and Clark County elections official. She competed in many State and National O-Mok-Sees. In 2017 she was inducted into the Helena Sports Hall of Fame as a member of the 1966 and 1968 Helena Trail Riders National Championship O-Mok-See high-point teams. She also competed in barrel races until the age of 82. She was a lifetime member of the Helena Trail Riders.
Later in life she took up jogging, which led to a favorite family story. Molly found herself in downtown Helena one evening with both of her Suburbans, one of which had been in the shop for repairs. Rather than ask a favor she drove one Suburban down Last Chance Gulch a mile, jogged back to get the other Suburban, which she then drove a mile beyond the first. And so on until she had transported both vehicles the five miles to her twenty-acre place on Prickly Pear Creek in the Helena Valley.
After the couple divorced in 1969, Molly was hired by the Montana State Library in Helena and then the Lewis and Clark County Public Library, where she worked as head of book processing until her retirement at the age of 77.
She was preceded in death by her parents, her son, Keith Herrin, Jr., her sister, Mary Burke Flax of Silver Spring, Maryland, her grandson Evan King of Missoula, and her horses, Kathy, Mokie and Little Sister, who lived into their 30s. She is survived by her daughters: Marcia Herrin (Alan Strickland) of Enfield Center, New Hampshire; Kitty Herrin (Bill Vaughn) and Carol King (Tom King) of Missoula; Mary Dent (Darvin Dent) of Brookville, Kansas; and Laura McPherson (Tom McPherson) of Wolf Point. She is also survived by seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
A private family service is planned. Memorials may be made to Hospice of Missoula.