Mary Margaret Kasiewicz, A Teacher And World Traveler

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Mary Margaret and Richard Kasiewicz sightseeing at Victoria Falls. (Courtesy Richard Kasiewicz)
Mary Margaret and Richard Kasiewicz sightseeing at Victoria Falls. (Courtesy Richard Kasiewicz)

Mary Margaret Tegeler met Richard Kasiewicz in the Connecticut Junior High School where they both worked. She was a reading specialist, devoted to the job.

"The custodians would turn off the lights at 6:30 and say, 'Mary you have to go home,' " Rich remembered.

Her eyes and a deliberate, asymmetric hairstyle drew him. A month later, he asked her to marry. Three months after that, she agreed.

“We were like a goose. You marry for life with a goose. The geese never separate. They’re there together for life. That’s what we were,” he said.

Nine years passed before Mary noticed uncharacteristic fatigue. By then, their children were 5 and 2. She consulted a doctor.

“And,” said Rich, “he sent her home, saying, 'blow in a paper bag, I think you’re just a little stressed out.' And then she finally went to another doctor, and he diagnosed it as multiple sclerosis.”

In relative terms, Mary was lucky. Treatment sent the MS into blessed remission for the next 17 years. She skied, jogged, taught and traveled with her family. As a mother, she insisted that her children never give up on any project they started — and she did the same when it came to the project of herself. When symptoms recurred in 1995, she drove herself to school in a van with hand controls. She and Richard took trips on his motorcycle, Mary riding side-saddle, with a transport wheelchair strapped to the side. The chair was a necessity, but not a constraint.

“After the kids were in college, that’s when we really started traveling a lot,” Rich explained. “We said, we’re going to visit as many countries as we can. We went to all seven continents and 45 countries. It was fabulous.”

South Africa, Zimbabwe, Italy, Egypt. Richard would inform the tour directors of her condition and assure them he would care for her completely. Mary never appeared without makeup and jewelry, illuminated by spirit.

“I don’t care where we went: Europe, Antarctica, Colorado, everybody — the bus driver, the tour director, tourists — would come up and say, your wife has the best smile. She’s always smiling, and nothing’s letting her down. There was a genuine smile, yes.”

The two geese never separated. Shortly before their trip to Antarctica on a converted research vessel, Richard got a call. The reservations were being canceled.

“I said, ‘why’? They said, ‘your wife’s in a wheelchair.' I said, ‘Can I please speak to your legal department?’ There was a silence. He came back on the phone and he said, ‘Can you send us a picture of the wheelchair?' "

It was a triumphant voyage. Ship staff carried Mary in and out of the Zodiac boat, and she made every trip to shore. There are photos of her in the chair, next to curious penguins.

One day, Richard was in the lounge when other passengers noticed the ship seemed to be moving with enigmatic purpose, not straight through the channel, but in a slow circle. He went up to the bridge to investigate. His wife sat at the helm, with the captain standing beside her.

Mary was driving.

Mary Margaret Kasiewicz died in December 2015 in Redding, Conn. She was 70 years old. Last summer, Richard traveled to Cuba. It was the one place she'd wanted to see but had been unable to visit. He says he went for her.

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This segment aired on March 15, 2017.

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Elissa Ely Creator of WBUR's The Remembrance Project
Elissa Ely is a community psychiatrist in Massachusetts and the creator of WBUR's The Remembrance Project.



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