Written by Karin E. Weiss
Mary loved life and her heart was generous in sharing her love with nearly everyone she came to know. She was a woman of immense spirit, with a capacity for savoring and appreciating every moment of her varied and wide-ranging experience.
Around 1970, she joined PHS. Then, as 19-year-old assistant to Rick Chilgren, who was newly appointed director of this fledgling program, she virtually held things together through the first faltering steps of "the birth of PHS." Mary helped recruit many of our 'pioneers' through her enthusiasm and, with Rick, she united us to pull together in that great effort. She won over a number of folks who would later become pillars of our PHS community.
Her presentations on human sexuality at seminars and Sexual Attitude Reassessments were so personally honest and delivered with such natural good humor that many who came expecting to be offended, were instead "converted" to believing in the possibility of "healthy sexual attitudes."
When, around the late 1970's, PHS underwent a major reorganization as it moved from an interdisciplinary program within the Medical School Dean's Office to the Department of Family Medicine, several of the original founders departed. Around 1980 Mary moved to California where she embarked upon a new life of adventures.
There, she held numerous interesting jobs over the years, always with the same competence and self-assurance and dedication as she had at PHS. She met her partner, David, and travelled with him to his home in England. Then, together, they came back and opened a bookstore in Mill Valley and lived on a houseboat in Sausalito. Their son, Will, was born some years later and Mary enjoyed an interlude of devoted motherhood.
In 2010, when her beloved sister, Nancy, became terminally ill with cancer, Mary made many visits to Minnesota, and stayed at Nan's side for her final weeks in hospice. During those weeks Mary kept a journal for Nan on Caring Bridge, sharing all the heartfelt grief and joy of her sister's passing. Nancy died on November 1, 2010. Only a year later Mary, herself, was undergoing intensive treatments for breast cancer.
Meanwhile, Will married Shannon, making Mary very proud and happy. Then, as Mary recovered from the treatments, her son and daughter-in-law gave birth to little Hannah the grand-daughter who gave Mary her very greatest pleasure.
But shortly thereafter Mary was diagnosed with terminal metastatic bone cancer, which she stoically determined to let run its course (curse?) with only at-home hospice care. Since July 2013, many have been following Mary's inspired journal entries on her own Caring Bridge website where she gave us all a profound lesson on how to die with grace and good humor.
Mary passed away on November 4, 2013, in her home with David at her side. She had just celebrated her 65th birthday in October.
See Mary's Caring Bridge Journal entry for Oct. 10 for her own spirited version of her life story.
Photo's courtesy of Will Barnett and Karin Weiss.