Cover photo for Nancy Jo McCulloch's Obituary
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1944 Nancy 2024

Nancy Jo McCulloch

December 4, 1944 — March 24, 2024

Missoula

Beloved mother, grandmother, and companion Nancy Jo McCulloch died unexpectedly in her home in the early hours of Sunday, March 24, at the age of 79. She leaves behind countless admirers of her independent spirit and generous heart.

Nancy was born on December 4, 1944, in Pasadena, CA, the second of James and Mary McCulloch’s three daughters. Her idyllic girlhood was spent in Altadena and then Santa Ana, where she graduated from Santa Ana High School in 1962. She attended Westmont College in Santa Barbara, graduating with a BA in Literature, Summa Cum Laude, in 1966. Married to Tom Graff in 1965, she delivered the valedictory address visibly pregnant with their first son, Sean.

During a visit to Tom’s home state of Montana while still in college, she fell hard for the state, and after moving there in the summer of 1967, she never looked back. She avidly explored the state’s highways, byways, and hiking and cross-country ski trails. Most of all, she loved the scenic grandeur of Glacier Park, where she made good use of her Lifetime Senior Pass.

After rearing her two young sons, Sean and Keir, she returned to work, first as a layreader in the Sentinel High School English department, then as a proofreader for the journals Psychological Reports and Perceptual and Motor Skills. Work as a special education paraprofessional at Lewis & Clark, Franklin, Whittier, Lincoln, and Prescott schools from 1978–1987 fostered her love of helping children with learning disabilities. During the 1980s, she earned her teaching certificate, special education endorsement, and MA in Education from the University of Montana. In 1988, she found her true calling as a resource room teacher in Russell, Prescott, and Rattlesnake Schools. She retired in 2008.

Her marriage to Tom Graff ended in 1995, and she was partnered with Wolfgang Ametsbichler from 1995 until 2011.

Nancy loved travel, and her well-worn passport included stamps from Australia, Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Italy, Ireland, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Myanmar, New Zealand, Peru, Portugal, Scotland, Switzerland, Vietnam, and Yugoslavia. Her stamina remained strong into her 70s, when she hiked down to Macchu Picchu—from above. In more recent years, she especially enjoyed taking various Road Scholar trips around the US with her sisters, Susan Buster and Molly Edwards.

Her greatest legacy is in the way she modeled aging to her kids and grandkids, showing them all how to build a life that is both rich and balanced. She was a true and loyal friend, an appreciator and supporter of the arts, and a beloved member of many communities. She helped sustain—and was sustained by—her hiking group, her breakfast club, her book club, the Missoula Women’s Choir, and the String Orchestra of the Rockies. A lifelong learner, she sometimes oversubscribed to MOLLI classes due to her indefatigable curiosity.

In a long and happy life, her post-retirement years may have been the most fulfilling as she embraced independence and relished new friendships and relationships. Her appointment book was so full her sons sometimes had difficulty getting her on the phone. Nancy’s grace and charm were undergirded by tenacity, hard work, and unparalleled organizational skills. She was a formidable Scrabble player, a talented pianist, had perfect penmanship, and could flash a Colgate smile at the click of a shutter.

In 2020, she began a new relationship with Bob Luceno, and with great affection they sustained each other through the Covid-19 pandemic. Together they enjoyed walking, talking, attending Contemplative Mass at St. Francis Xavier, listening to music, and attending the Highland Games, where Bob’s Celtic Dragon Pipe Band often performed.

After suffering a mild heart attack on March 17, Nancy was treated and appeared to be making a full recovery. She was making plans for the future and embracing the challenge of rehab when she suffered a fatal heart attack brought on by a rare complication. The whole family takes solace in the knowledge that her last day with Bob included a walk along the Clark Fork, watching a streamed opera production at the Roxy Theater, and a slow dance at the Union Club.

She is survived by her partner, Bob Luceno; her sons Sean (Kirstin Scott) and Keir (Marya) Graff; grandchildren Wilhelmina, Oscar, June, and Cosmo; her sisters, Susan (Walt) Buster and Molly (Dennis) Edwards, and their families; and a rich extended network of strong women who were proud to call her their friend.

A memorial and celebration of Nancy’s life will be held from 2–4pm on Saturday, March 30, in the Governor’s Room in the Florence Building (111 N. Higgins Ave., Missoula, MT). In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in her name to the String Orchestra of the Rockies (https://sormt.org/support2/).

Service Schedule

Past Services

Celebration of Life

Saturday, March 30, 2024

2:00 - 4:00 pm (Mountain time)

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