Postscript to a Life and Death: BY ROBERT SHERRILL Note to readers: This obituary of my wife is obviously a departure from the material usually found in The Texas Observer, and perhaps an explanation is in order. I am buying this space from TO for two reasons: partly because I think someone other than the undertaker should profit from her death, but primarily because she was excessively loyal to the Observer \(indeed, herself would have liked for her exit to be noted, if noted at all, by the kind of radical softies who make up the bulk of the Observer’s subscription list. Robert Sherrill WHEN SHE learned Mary was dying, Myra MacPherson, the Washington Post reporter and best-selling author, wrote, “I love Mary, as do countless other friends. She was so exceptional warm, bright, always interested in the world and everyone in it, and the most charming hostess I have ever known.” Jean Dugger Marshall wrote, “Mary always made her home such a wonderful place to be, always made her friends so much at home, especially if they had some good stories and gossip to impart.” They have identified Mary’s genius: collecting fascinating, talkative friends. She was an addict of friendship and conversation. Whether it was over beer or coffee or dinner, wherever two or three or more were gathered together with Mary . one of the world’s great listeners and promoters of laryngeal excesses the table became a veritable Algonquin of ,i conversation in all moods: sparkling, contemplative, witty, caustic, slapstick. Their voices come back from across the years: Myra and Molly Ivins and Nadine Brammer making their rib ald judgments of the world. … Ned Chilton profiling the political rogues he had helped send to prison. … Ann Waldron and other writers recalling the artful dodgers they had met in book publishing. … Bob Eckhardt \(“Mary brought happiness to all of us who tory. … Studs Terkel, always arriving armed with cigars and a bottle of brandy, retelling some of his classic interviews. … Jack Gordon and Allen Morris and Martin Waldron hooting about the Pork Chop Gang and later miscreants of the Florida Legislature. … And I.F. Stone momentarily putting aside the problem of saving the world to carefully explain the proper way to cook Peking duck. … Bill Brammer recalling Lyndon Johnson’s idiosyncrasies \(such Mason remembering how he was forced from the University of Chicago’s presidency because he was a divorcee. … T.V. Smith telling about growing up in Blanket, Texas, and teaching philosophy at the University of Chicago. … Atlanta Constitution writer Carrie Teegardin \(“I’ve known no other woman who seemed pergraphics of Southern children. … Author Adam Nossiter \(“Mary was a great lady, tures in darkest Dixie. … Scharlette Holdman relating her grotesque death row stories. … And Jim Abourezk recalling an early job as a bouncer and his later jobin “this chickenshit place,” the U.S. Senate. … Leather-garbed Jim Goode explaining the office politics of Playboy and Penthouse when he edited them. … Max Courtney recalling the funny side of being the first black at Florida State University. … Environmentalist Juanita Greene explaining the best way to save the Everglades. … Ammon Hennacy telling in wry detail his federal imprisonment for picketing against the bomb. … Scarred civil rights activist Clifton Lewis boasting of the ultimate victory of lost causes. … et cetera by the dozens. Threading through all those remembered voices, and tying them together, is the most, the cheerful, tinkly voice of Mary,” flattering her friends and egging them on. And when their visits were over, they remained a living presence in her home because of her uncanny ability days or months later to recall and quote the best of what had been said on every memorable occasion. For one who underneath it all was a rather reserved Scandinavian, Mary made an awesomely wide sweep with the net of her affections. She treated her pets children and her friends as her family. And what an extended family it was! People with whom she at first had only the driest commercial relations realtors, landlords and ladies, contractors, picture framers, antique dealers, etc. would very often become lifelong parts of her circle. I think it happened because there was something not only intrinsically appealing but unforgettable about her. Early last year we returned to Washington and, among other things, dropped in an antique dealership once operated by a charming exartist’s model named Libby. Libby, we knew, had died and the business had been taken over by her daughter. When we entered the shop, Mary said to a young man sitting behind a desk up front: “You must be Libby’s son-in-law!’ He, looking up in recognition, replied, “Yes, and you must be Mrs. Sherrill.” He had met her only once, for a couple of minutes, 12 years earlier. My blood being slightly tainted with Irish poison, I sometimes feuded with friends. Not Mary. For her, friendships once made were made forever. I had a yearlong fuss with Ronnie Dugger over, as I recall, a question of ethics in Woodrow Bean’s crooked Congressional campaign. \(I, working for Bean, was on the shady bors, and Mary wasn’t about to let my feud reduce in the slightest her affection for Ronnie and especially for his wife, Jean, whose elfin wisdom and sly humor enchanted her. Nor did ideology get in Mary’s way. Bob Kephart, then publisher of the miserably right-wing Human Events, was one of her favorite luncheon guests when we lived in Washington, partly because he was a charmer and partly because he always came loaded with savage gossip about guys like J. Edgar Hoover. 12 FEBRUARY 25, 1994 ,n,.. ‘t* V4100,16
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