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Shelter Island Reporter obituary: Mary “Bonnie” Snowden Helme

Mary “Bonnie” Snowden Helme

Mary “Bonnie” Snowden Helme of Cape Coral, Fla. and Middletown, R.I., beloved wife, mother and grandmother passed away at home on Aug. 7, 2023 at 90 years of age.

She was surrounded by her family in her final days. Family was always her first priority, followed by friends and the community. She was loving, kind and generous both with her words and time for all. She was selfless in her devotion to her husband Jay and their family.

Mary was born Mary Elizabeth Snowden Bonnage in Philadelphia, Penn. to Emma Elizabeth Snowden and John Bonnage on Oct. 7, 1932. She had one brother, Reese. She spent her teen years at her mother’s home, Swedesford Farm in Malvern where her grandfather, Laird Snowden, shared in her upbringing. She graduated from The Agnes Irwin School in 1951.

Bonnie met the love of her life Jay Ely Helme while they were in high school. They were married on Aug. 8, 1952. They spent the first couple of years of marriage in Princeton, N.J. while Jay finished up his degree at Princeton University. They spent their third year at Fort Sill, Okla., where Jay completed his U.S. Army service. In subsequent years, Jay and Bonnie divided their time between Apple Lane Farm in Paoli, Penn. and the family home in Dering Harbor, while raising their four children.

They moved to Shelter Island year-round in 1984, and later spent several happy years in Newport, R.I. before building their dream home in Cape Coral, Fla.  In later years they enjoyed summers in Rhode Island, and escaping the cold in Cape Coral during the winter months. Since the loss of her husband, Bonnie has lived with her oldest daughter Sally in both Middletown, R.I., and Cape Coral.

Bonnie volunteered many hours for nonprofit organizations in her Pennsylvania and Long Island communities. She served as a member of the Paoli Memorial Hospital Women’s Auxiliary in her pink uniform in the 1960s and 1970s and 70’s as well as the Devon Horse Show where her children have fond memories of taste testing all of the endless batches of fudge that were homemade for the show using the “top secret” recipe. 

On Shelter Island, she served on the Ladies Committee of the Shelter Island Yacht Club (SIYC) whether it be organizing and hosting visiting sailors or making sandwiches to sell at the multiple regattas. In addition, she supported her husband Jay in his duties as a Flag Officer of SIYC. She also served on Race Committee. Bonnie and Jay were honored for their service to SIYC by the establishment of the “Helme Trophy” in 1999 to honor their contributions to the Club over the years. At the time of her passing she was SIYC Member Number 1. Her children have many wonderful memories of their racing and cruising days out of SIYC with their parents.

They were also former members of the New York and Ida Lewis Yacht Clubs in Newport, R..I., as well as Radnor Hunt (Malvern) and Waynesborough Country Club (Paoli) in Pennsylvania. 

Bonnie was proud to assist her son Jay Jr. (Skip), in his growing business of Brewer Street Boatworks in Newport in the 1980s and early 1990s. She served as his Office Manager and took care of all of the paperwork, calls and collections(!), while he and his team were out working on the boats.

These efforts taught her the use of computer skills, unusual for a lady of her generation and which proved invaluable in her later years. She became a whiz at emailing and texting, which her entire family benefited from until her final days.

Whether the children or grandchildren were in residence or traveling, at school or at work, we frequently enjoyed texted/emailed words of encouragement and love from Mom/Grandmommy. It was always such a joy to see her name pop up on the screen. 

Bonnie was predeceased by her husband Jay, who died in January 2019 and her brother Reese who died in 1983. She is survived by her four children: Sally Helme of Middletown; Suzy Helme of West Chester Penn.; Sandy and her husband Gregg Griffin of Southampton N.Y.; and Skip Helme and his wife Nancy of Newport. She is also survived by her six grandchildren: Gregg Griffin Jr. and his wife Elizabeth of Newport; Elizabeth Bowden of Southampton; Hayley Bowden of Salem Mass.: Morgan Helme of Newport; Reese Bowden of Tiverton R.I.; and Henry Helme of Newport RI. Bonnie’s yellow Labrador “Wren” was her loyal companion. 

A memorial service is planned for noon on Sept. 30, 2023 at St Mary’s Episcopal Church.  A reception at Shelter Island Country Club will follow.