Marilyn Elise McBirney passed away peacefully Nov. 25, 2014, at Hendrick Hospice in Abilene, Texas. She was born on Aug.13, 1956, in Long Beach, Calif. She always had a great love for animals which led to becoming a volunteer at the Houston Zoo as a teenager. After graduating from Texas A&M with a degree in Bio-medical Science, she began her career as a keeper at the Houston Zoo. She was soon promoted to supervisor and subsequently earned a master's degree in Education at University of Houston. She then moved to Pueblo to become General Curator of the Pueblo Zoo. One of her many achievements over the next 23 years of service was helping the zoo gain accreditation status which greatly enhanced its reputation. In April 2014, she became the General Curator of the Abilene Zoo. She is highly regarded by her peers for her dedication, loyalty and contributions to her profession. Her devotion to her career led to involvement with numerous organizations including being elected Coordinator for the Species Survival Program of the swift fox and active in the American Zoological Association. Her passion for nature, animals, birds and photography took her on many travels to zoos and parks. She was president of the Audubon Assn. in Southern Colorado and later active in the Abilene chapter. She was also a member of PEO, Chapter BQ in Pueblo. She earned a Master Gardener Certificate from Pueblo and was later involved in the Big Country Master Gardeners Assn. Preceded in death by her father, James Stanley McBirney. Survived by her mother, Ronna McBirney Paterson of Plano, Texas; sister, Karen McBirney Scott of Branch, Ark.; brother, Don McBirney of Piedmont, Calif.; and her two German Shepherds, Sasha and Merlin. Celebration of her life, 2 p.m. Tuesday, Dec.2, in the Montgomery & Steward Chapel. Memorials may be made to Hendrick Hospice Care, 1682 Hickory St., Abilene, TX 79601, or West Texas Rehabilitation Center, 4601 Hartford St., Abilene, TX 79605 or the Abilene Zoo, 2070 Zoo Lane, Abilene, TX 79602. Online condolences,

View current weather.

Memories Timeline

View the Timeline


  1. I never knew my distant cousin (4th!) personally, but I knew that she was a respected member of the Pueblo Zoo community. I was saddened to come across Marilyn’s obituary – especially her passing at such a young age. I hope her family was as touched by the sweet shared memories of her friends as I was reading them.

    Ron Thomas, Estes Park, CO
    (a McBirney kinsman)

  2. Only today I learned of Marilyn’s passing and want to share my condolences to all her loved ones. I met Marilyn in 1994 while visiting Pueblo and remained in touch through our semi-annual AZA meetings. She was warm of spirit and will be missed.

  3. Marilyn was a special person. She and I both started at the Houston Zoo around the same time. Always supportive, sweet, quiet and smart, Marilyn was always there.

    When I was raising a camel, Marilyn would come by the enclosure to help out. Once I was late with a bottle feeding, “Fatima” came out and angrily kicked me squarely in the thigh. Marilyn nearly fell over laughing.

    Later after I transferred to another department, I would come by to see Fatima sometimes and she’d see me through a crowd and let out a rumbling growl. Marilyn would holler out “Oh Tima sees her Mama!”

    My best to her family.

  4. Words cannot begin to encapsulate the grief I am feeling about the passing of my dear friend, Marilyn McBirney. We have been dear friends since 1984, dating back to our days at the Houston Zoo. Marilyn’s life has touched many lives in a very positive way, mine’s included. I would like to pass on my condolences to the McBirney Family.

  5. Connie Jenkins I was so sorry to hear about Marilyn’s with cancer that took her away from much too soon. I was a volunteer at the zoo and really admired Marilyn for her love and knowledge of the animals she cared for. Also, she was a great teacher to those of us who wanted to learn and be more aware to the world around us. She was not only a beautiful soul but a really cute kid. Loved to see her picture as a youngster. I wish her family some peace knowing that her life was one that was well live.

  6. Ronna, Our P.E.O. chapter was so pleased to have you and Marilyn visit here in Abilene. Although we were just beginning to know Marilyn well, we are all so sad to learn of her death. Please know we enjoyed our brief time with both of you so much. We will keep you and your family in our prayers.

  7. Ronna, we met you at our P.E.O. meeting. We enjoyed your visits and were pleased Marilyn continued to attend on her own. She will be missed.

    We are saddened by her paasing and will keep you and your family in our prayers.

  8. Dear Ronna, I was so sorry to read of your loss. Your daughter must have been a wonderful, talented person. I wish I had known her. You have my deepest sympathy.

  9. Ronna and family, I was so sad to hear of Marilyn’s passing. I saw it in my Aggie silver taps listing. This is Jackie from Memorial High School — Marilyn was a best friend of mine and I have many, many fond memories of her. I remember listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival while playing double solitaire on the floor in your dining room. We played horse racing games when her dad would bring home that teletype printer that hooked up to the phone lines. I remember making cookie monster puppets with her and playing tether ball at your house. She always loved animals — hamsters and her German shepherd Dutch among many others. I reconnected with her several years ago when she was at the Pueblo zoo and we planned to get together, but unfortunately never did. We kept up with Christmas cards for awhile, but then lost track. I’m out in Raleigh NC, since 1989. May your happy memories of Marilyn bring you comfort. She’s at peace now. You all are in my prayers.

  10. Some days are just brighter than others, and some smiles are the same. So on behalf of her friends at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, we mourn the loss of those truly bright days when we got to enjoy Marilyn’s smiles.

  11. I worked for Marilyn at the Pueblo Zoo, and she helped me to get where I am today. She was always kind and supportive. she will be missed

  12. My heart sank when I learned that Marilyn had passed. I was honored to have been her colleague and friend. Her positive spirit and dedication to conservation efforts were but a few of the many qualities admired by all who knew her. Just thinking about her genuine smile makes me smile! Hers was definitely a life worth celebrating. My deepest condolences to Marilyn’s family. I hope you are able to surround yourselves with all that brings you peace during this difficult time.

  13. I am saddened to hear of Marilyn’s death. But I am glad that I knew her and happy that we are able to celebrate her life. Watching her grow from a zoo volunteer to zoo curator was a treat for me. She was a joy to work with. Her smile was infectious. Marilyn was a wonderful teacher leading by example in her love of animals. She truly nurtured the wonder of nature. Marilyn touched many lives, and her memory will live on with all of us.

  14. Ronna and Family

    Please Accept My Heartfelt Sympathies for your loss of Marilyn… Our thoughts and prayers goes out to the family during this difficult times..May you find comfort in these words (Psalms 34:18) ” God is close to those brokenhearted and is close to those crushed spirit”,,,, (Revelation 21:4) Our Creator promise that there will be soon a time when “Death will be no more”.. and have to never say “GOOD BYE ” again,,,… Sincere Condolence….

  15. Ronna and family, I was so sorry to hear of Marilyn’s illness and now death. My heartfelt sympathy go out to you and your family. Marilyn was a pleasure to work with on whatever projects we were involved with over the years. I have missed her smart, willing, kind and solid presence since she left Pueblo. Her death saddens me and I am so very sorry to have to miss her Celebration of Life tomorrow. I send a hug to you and all of your family.

  16. I am very sorry for the recent loss of your loved one, Marilyn Elise McBirney. I have a brief encouraging message I would like to share with you from God’s Word, the Bible. The Bible can be a great source of both comfort and hope during this most difficult time in your lives. For an example, at Revelation 21:3-5 it assures is that the day is soon coming when our loving Heavenly Father is going to wipe away the tears of sorrow from our eyes forever and that even pain & death will be no more. I hope after reading this it will be of some comfort to each one of you. If later you would like to learn more from the Bible about why we die or why does a loving God allow so much suffering & injustice, please feel free to go to the website: to find some very satisfying answers.

Sign the Guestbook, Light a Candle

Sign the Guestbook