Mary Stevenson died July 14 in Medford, Massachusetts. She was 92 years old, and liked to say: “There’s no limit to what you can do, if you let someone else take the credit.” This philosophy served her passions beautifully.
She was born in Syracuse, then moved upstate to a dairy farm in the Hudson River Valley after her father lost his job. Her high school, in Poughkeepsie, was not far from Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s retreat. One day, as Mary headed out, her mother ordered her to wear a pair of sensible but unattractive boots. "Go on," her mother insisted, "no one’s going to see you." That was the morning a car drove by and stopped — the Roosevelts were inside, with the king and queen of England.
Mary married at 19, and, for the next 27 years, sustained an outwardly steady appearance to obscure an inward unhappiness. As the marriage deteriorated, she sometimes took a commuter train to Greenwich Village, just to surround herself with beauty. Then she married again — the minister in her church — and over the next happy 44 years, blossomed into social and political activism.
They moved to rural Vermont, where she threw herself into causes with the same energy she had used to raise six children: the Equal Rights Amendment, National Organization for Women, emergency housing for refugees, and, closest to her heart, a respite for local battered women in crisis. At the small bed and breakfast she and her husband ran, their kitchen table might seat a couple of tourists, a woman whose husband had threatened her with a shotgun, and a family from El Salvador.
Mary was passionate, but also strategic. She and her husband owned some rental properties, and she extracted rent from an avoidant tenant once by following him into a bar on payday. “A little more, a little more,” she said in front of the other patrons, while her tenant pulled bills reluctantly from his wallet.
For such a vocal person, the lung disease that struck was especially ironic. As she grew sicker, she said it felt like drowning. The last few days of her life, hospice staff suggested to her husband that it might be time for him to offer love in the form of ultimate permission. In a soul-baring conversation one night, he told her that if she was ready, she could let go now. When he was done talking, she answered.
“No,” Mary said. “No.”
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