Tooting nursery founder and brave charity fundraiser dies just days after being made an MBE aged 96

By Rhiannon Du Cann

The founder of the Eveline Day & Nursery Schools and MBE, Maria Keaveney-Jessiman, has died aged 96. 

Maria, a Wimbledon resident, was awarded an MBE for her services to education in the Queen’s 2021 New Year’s Honour list just days before her passing in January. 

She was recognised for her impact on education of the young and received the ‘Outstanding Contribution Award’ from the National Day Nursery Association in 2018.  

The daughter of Mark and Mary, Maria was born in Kilcooley village, County Galway, where she attended Kilcroan School from the age of five. 

Maria moved to Scotland aged 19 to embark on a career in nursing before moving to London where she joined the Civil Service working for the Ministry of Health. 

Maria met her husband Alf in the late 1940s and they married in St. Anselm’s Church, Tooting in 1950. 

They had three children, a daughter, Eveline and twin sons, Justin and Gordon.

Maria began a child-minding service from her family home in Tooting while caring for her own young children. 

She then opened the first Eveline Day Nursery on Huron Road, Tooting in 1964 after a health inspector was so impressed by the level of care she provided. 

At the time, young mothers were expected to remain at home to raise children and the absence of state-run nursery places was a barrier. 

But Maria believed mothers wanted to work and nurseries should be an ‘extension of the home’ where children were safe and could thrive in stimulating environments.

Maria also thought it was important to support mothers and families of the children. 

Maria ran her own business while looking after her three young children – a rare combination in the 1960s. 

Thanks to her progressive thinking and joined by her husband in business, Maria established seven more nurseries across South West London. 

The Eveline Day School opened in Balham in 1989, headed by Maria’s daughter Eveline who shares the same passion for education. 

Maria was the principal of the Eveline Day & Nursery Schools for over 50 years.

She was actively involved in the running of the nurseries and school and her passion for childcare and education continued unabated after her husband’s passing in 2015. 

The business remains family run after Gordon also joined and includes seven nurseries and one school in South West London. 

She surpassed her own fundraising challenge raising money for children’s charities close to her heart by climbing 100,000 steps at home during the 2020 lockdown aged 95. 

Maria died on January 14 at St. George’s Hospital, Tooting.  

Maria will be deeply missed by her children, grandchildren, many great grandchildren, sisters, and all her extended family at Eveline Day Nursery Schools.  

The funeral service will be held at Sacred Heart church, Edge Hill on 22 February. 

Due to the current covid-19 restrictions, only 30 people are able to attend. 

There will be a procession after the service, passing The Justin James Hotel, 30 Ritherdon Road and Swan House, Balham High Road, finally stopping at Blackshaw Road Cemetery where anyone is welcome to attend.

Please be reminded of social distancing due to the current pandemic.

For those that wish to join virtually, the below live streams will be taking place:

           11,30am: Church service 

           2pm: Cemetery service (Password- EvelineDay) 

To make a donation in memory of Maria, the family have reopened the previous Just Giving fundraising page for her chosen charities: Rianna’s Fund, Winston’s Wish and NHS charities.

If you wish to send flowers, please send them directly to the address below, to arrive at 9am on 22 February. Please note they will not be open on Sunday.

Mears and Cotterill Funeral Directors

169 Merton Road



SW18 5EF

Ref: Please include Mrs Maria Keaveney-Jessiman

The family hopes to celebrate her life later in the year when it is safe to do so.



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