Karen Naomi Connolly-Lawless

Age 61: Westminster resident helped run Connolly's Seafood

July 05, 2008|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,Sun reporter

Karen Naomi Connolly-Lawless, who helped run the former Connolly's Seafood, her family's restaurant and a Baltimore institution for 87 years, died Wednesday at home of lung cancer. She was 61 and lived in Westminster.

Born in Baltimore the only child of Naomi Bond Connolly and Sterling L. Connolly, her first love was art. She graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art and became a freelance commercial artist, specializing in graphic design for companies throughout Baltimore.

"Before computers, she was a master at retouching photos; she was very precise," said her daughter, Karene Smith of Westminster.

Mrs. Connolly-Lawless was a successful businesswoman in her 30s when her mother became ill, and her parents asked for help running the family business at Baltimore's Pier 5. She was torn.

"She was sad to see that part of her life go," Mrs. Smith said. "She was very good at what she did and was very well-known for it. She had to give it up to take care of her responsibilities. But it wasn't where her heart was."

Nevertheless, she enjoyed running the family enterprise and infused her artistic talent into everything she did, her daughter said. On Halloween, she made elaborate costumes for Connolly's wait staff, re-creating characters from The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland.

"It got so involved," Mrs. Smith said. "People would be changing costumes every shift, and customers came just to see the show."

Later, Mrs. Connolly-Lawless and her daughter opened a small-crafts business at a farmers' market in Westminster, selling flowers and sculptures of fairies made out of polymer clay.

"She loved that," Mrs. Smith said. "We did it for six or seven years, traveling from Massachusetts to Kentucky selling these fairies."

Mrs. Connolly-Lawless also enjoyed dancing. While relatives studied tap and jazz, she took up Polynesian dancing. She earned money to help pay college tuition by performing, Mrs. Smith said.

Two years ago, shortly after she was diagnosed with cancer, she married Douglas M. Lawless, whom she had known since she was a teenager. The couple met at her parents' restaurant, where Mr. Lawless worked as a server.

"We had always been married; we just made it legal," said Mr. Lawless, who is a shuttle driver for an auto dealer.

Mrs. Connolly-Lawless was known for practical jokes, including one she played on former Mayor William Donald Schaefer, a friend of the family, her daughter said.

One Halloween, Mrs. Connolly-Lawson disguised herself as a bag lady. She persuaded Mr. Schaefer's security detail to allow her to surprise the mayor in his City Hall office. When Mr. Schaefer arrived, she pretended to be a homeless woman, lamenting to the mayor that his administration needed to help her.

"He didn't know how to react," Mrs. Smith said. "But when she pulled off her hat, he said, 'I should have known.' She was always pulling things like that; always making people laugh."

Mrs. Connolly-Lawless remained loyal to the staff of Connolly's after the business closed in 1991. She continued her father's tradition of offering a free Good Friday dinner of flounder to friends and family, taking the gathering from the restaurant to her home in Westminster.

"When the restaurant closed, she was sad, because she knew she was going to miss the people," her daughter said. "It was the kind of place where everybody knew everybody. But all that was changing with new businesses coming in. Our little steel and corrugated tin building wasn't standing up very well next to those new million-dollar restaurants."

Services will be held at 11:30 a.m. Monday at the Pritts Funeral Home & Chapel, 412 Washington Road, Westminster.

In addition to her husband and her daughter, she is survived by two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.


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