Mary Adams was my next-door neighbor for 20 years. She died at home at the age of 91, on a sunny Thursday morning, March 8, 2012. Six months earlier in September, she asked me to come over and meet with her and her son Michael to talk about how we would create her life celebration after she died.
What a gift this was. We talked about what she wanted done with her body (cremation – still figuring out what to do with the remains). We talked about the setting, speakers, music and readings for the memorial service. We talked about having a cocktail party at her home afterward, just like the parties she was legendary for holding.
On Saturday, March 24, we held a unique memorial service that was all about Mary Adams. Son Michael agreed to have the service video recorded and placed on YouTube so that those who could not attend would be able to witness this celebration of her life.
We laughed, we cried, we said goodbye. Many people said it was the best memorial service they’d ever attended. The video is below, followed by the text of most of what was said at the service.
At the end of the service, I said that Mary Adams was now our guardian angel. Just the other day, I thought about her and that statement. The image that came to mind was a cigarette-smoking, martini-drinking woman with a wry smile and a twinkle in her eye. Now that’s a guardian angel!
Memorial Service for Mary Adams
First Corinthians 13: The Greatest Gift
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;
Does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became an adult, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Welcome. My name is Gail Rubin, and I am honored to be the Celebrant for today’s service honoring and remembering the life of Mary Adams.
Today we speak with love about a woman who has touched our lives in so many ways. To avoid distractions of sounding brass or clanging cymbal, and to be fully present in our remembrance, please silence or turn off your cell phone or electronic devices for the duration of this service. Thank you.
It is an important day when we stop to bear witness to a person’s life and times among us, the difference her living and dying made, and to reflect on our hope, our wonder and our collected grief. It is a time to create a circle of support for the loved ones gathered here.
On behalf of the family, thank you for being here for this important moment. We are here in support of Mary’s son Michael, her grandchildren Devon, Gray, Ian and Kayla, Mary’s sister Jean and her children, David, Doug, Andrew, and Susan and her husband Jay.
Mary said that she wanted us to talk about her, not what she did. Yet so much of what she did is a reflection of who she was: a woman of many talents and interests, of intellect and activity.
Stories of Mary
Mary Adams, born Mary Elizabeth Atcheson, came from Irish stock. We all know how well the Irish weave a story. She always had a twinkle in her eye. She was always ready to strike a dancer’s pose. Not only could Mary tell a good story, she wrote stories. She listened to stories of family, of friends and of clients. She edited stories. Her life was a story of grand proportions.
Mary said her family lineage in the United States stretched back to a forebear from Ireland who came to this continent and served in George Washington’s army. He very wisely married a lieutenant’s daughter, which brought added benefits.
Mary was born in Washington, Iowa. She came from a long line of farmers, the men, and teachers, the women. In the 1920s, when women got the right to vote, her mother told her she didn’t have to be a teacher. She could be anything she wanted to be.
Well, Mary was a teacher, and she was so much more – a dancer, a reporter, an editor, an art curator, a publisher, a grant writer, a social worker, a clinical psychotherapist, an advocate for the underdog, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a lover and a friend.
When Mary was a teenager, she spent a summer in Washington, D.C. and met Eleanor Roosevelt in person. If Mary wasn’t already a liberal, she certainly was after that meeting. Throughout her life she supported causes: The Southern Poverty Law Center, Doctors Without Borders, several veterans groups and Native American tribes.
Mary attended the University of California in Los Angeles. While pursuing her B.A. degree at UCLA, Mary was also active in dance and drama. One day, she was in the theater painting a set when Clinton Adams walked by. He said, “You’re doing that wrong.”
Thus started a romantic relationship and a professional partnership that lasted more than six decades. They married while Clinton was on leave during World War II, and she held jobs almost everywhere Clinton’s career took them.
In the 1940s, when Clinton was in the Army Air Corps in Colorado Springs, Mary served as a Corps administrative assistant. In the early ‘50s, they went back to Los Angeles, with Clinton at UCLA. Mary was an elementary school teacher, an assistant at UCLA, and an assistant at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu.
In the latter half of the ‘50s, while Clinton worked at the University of Kentucky, Mary was a reporter for a radio station and for UPI, the United Press International wire service. They were in Gainesville, Florida when Michael was born, and she took some time off to be a mom. There was another jaunt back to UCLA in the early ‘60s and then the call came. Mary and Clinton arrived in Albuquerque for their long association with the University of New Mexico.
In 1962, Mary and Clinton moved into a stunning California contemporary home on Morningside Drive here in Albuquerque. In this home, she continued to work to improve the lives of the less fortunate. She wrote and published books and articles. And she became a counselor and psychotherapist at the age of 57.
Mary was a voracious news junkie. She was keenly interested in following and discussing politics, and she loved political satire. We’re talking about the music of Tom Lehrer and TV programs such as That Was the Week That Was, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, and most recently, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Politically Incorrect with Bill Mahrer.
Always the consummate hostess, Mary expertly made introductions and connections between people at her gatherings. Her Winter Solstice parties are legendary. No matter the date, cocktails were served at 5:00: hence the timing of our remembrance here today.
Many famous artists visited Mary and Clinton’s home and art was all over the house. A Matisse hung in the bathroom. Georgia O’Keefe was a friend, and Mary published several essays about her and other artists.
Mary lived in that home for 50 years. And on the sunny morning of March 8, at the age of 91, with son Michael, sister Jean, and long-time assistant Ethel Mae by her side, she peacefully died there.
Mary was my next-door neighbor for the last 20 years. There’s now a hole in my heart when I look at her house. Truly, love makes a house a home.
Mary was also a prolific list maker and used yellow sticky notes extensively. Back in September, she asked me to come over to meet with her and Michael to plan this service. We laughed together as we sketched out her final party. What a gift this was. We knew how she wanted her life to be celebrated. Today those plans are a reality.
We’ll now hear stories about Mary from her sister Jean Willson.
(Jean Willson speaks)
One of the people that Mary wanted to speak here today was Jim Belshaw, the former Albuquerque Journal columnist who was a longtime friend of both she and Clinton. He was unable to attend due to a family commitment, however he sent these words for me to share with you.
Mary and I talked about a lot of things – politics, art, journalism, psychology. We talked about UNM and the city and the state. We talked about her history and mine. We talked about her FBI “sheet.” I loved the strange irony of this beautiful woman, who was exactly the kind of American America needed, being looked at askance by the FBI. It made me think of all the times Tony Hillerman needled the FBI. I remember thinking that if the FBI thought it needed to investigate Mary Adams, then everything Hillerman said about them was right.
Mary and I talked about Clinton and his art and what made him the artist he was. We talked about her writing and mine. We went to lunch or I came to the house and we just let the conversation go wherever it wanted to go.
Regardless of the subject or the location, I always left feeling that I had been given something. I always felt a little better because of the time spent with her.
And here’s something else that in my mind will forever be connected to those conversations – I always left her house either singing or humming the same song:
There is nothing like a dame
Nothing in this world.
There is nothing you can name that is anything like a dame.
“Dame” is one of those generational words you don’t hear much any more. I don’t think I’ve ever used it in my life, except as it regarded one woman. Mary Adams was the best dame I’ve ever known.
When I first met her, we spoke only in passing, usually when I was sitting at her dining table with seven other men who were playing poker when it was Clint’s turn to host the game.
It was only after Clint died in 2002 that the lunches and visits with Mary began. I don’t remember exactly how they started. I remember only that I was glad they did. I suppose in the beginning I just wanted to see how she was doing, but it didn’t take long before it became clear that I was enjoying the time I spent with her more and more. There were things I could learn from her if I was smart enough to pay attention.
In 2005, I wrote a column about Mary and a long-distance relationship she had going with a man in Texas. It was a marvelous story about love and it spoke to the irrelevance of age when you found yourself crazy in love. But before I wrote the column, I worried about “trolls” on the Internet, those poor, empty souls who write anonymous attacks for reasons that escape me. I worried that they’d track her e-mail down and fill her Inbox with ugliness.
So I told Mary I wasn’t going to identify her or the man in Texas. Here’s what she said: “The nice thing about being old is you don’t really give a damn what anybody thinks. So do it any way you want. We don’t care.”
She was the best dame I have ever known. She made something inside of me sing.
The man in Texas was Donald Weisman. He was a college professor, a writer, an artist. After Clinton died in 2002, Mary found a 50-year old photo snapped on a New York street taken of her and Don. She mailed it to him, and a late-in-life love story bloomed. Jim Belshaw’s Albuquerque Journal column about them started out:
She’s 84. He’s 90. She lives here. He lives in another state. But they know how to get on an airplane and so they have one of those long distance things going, you know?
Don had sent Jim a poem he wrote about his relationship with Mary, which Jim put into this column. Here’s the poem Don sent. It’s called “Let Me Tell You.”
Have you ever
Looked up the meaning
In a big dictionary
of the word home.
You’d be surprised
How richly varied
And subject to ambiguity
That word is,
How it opens up
A virtual vista
Through a little window.
So let me tell you
A man of ninety,
After lots of loves,
After three wives,
All naturally dead
And great grand children.
Let me tell you
What has come to mean
Having the rare
Of falling freshly in love,
Body, mind and soul
And feeling her easy open invitation
Even as I open to her
And we embrace.
Let me tell you
It’s like all the past good
Was a series of markers
I was on the right road
Toward that embrace.
All the way
He’s 90. She’s 84. They have this long distance thing going. We should all live so long.
Thanks to Jim Belshaw for sharing his thoughts. Another great love of Mary’s life was dance. Her good friend Gigi Bennahum will now share some stories.
(Gigi Bennahum speaks)
Mary was so proud of her granddaughter Devon, a dancer since she was a little girl. Today we are honored to have Devon perform her dance, “Oh My Soul,” in honor of her grandmother. The psalm readers are her siblings, Ian, Gray, and Kayla.
(Dance, music, readings)
A Meditation on Psalm 90
Lord, what are we, that You have regard for us? What are we, that You are mindful of us? A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.
We are like a breath; our days are as a passing shadow; we come and go like grass which in the morning shoots up, renewed, and in the evening fades and withers.
You cause us to revert to dust, saying: Return, o mortal creatures! Would that we were wise, that we understood whither we are going! For when we die we carry nothing away; our glory does not accompany us.
Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty if our strength endures. They quickly pass and we fly away. Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Mark the whole-hearted and behold the upright; they shall have peace. Lord, You redeem the soul of Your servants, and none who trust in You shall be desolate.
May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands.
Mary Adams’ strength endured for 91 years. She was as sharp as ever right up to the end. The work of her hands and mind and heart will endure in ways beyond our knowing. We affirm that her love endures in the lives she touched.
Parents give us roots and give us wings. They bring us into the world, provide a foundation and then give us the tools to find our own way. Though we may have grown up and grown away, there is still something special about sharing our victories and commiserating our defeats with that special parent figure in our lives. Even if the relationship might have been challenging at different moments, we never stray far from the promise that home is where the heart is.
Losing a parent, even after a long and full life, leaves an empty place in our hearts. In spite of the darkness cast by this loss, we reaffirm our belief in the light of life.
If you would like to join in the reading of the 23rd Psalm, the text is on the inside of your program.
The 23rd Psalm
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
The time is now 5:12 p.m. At Mary’s house, that would mean it was cocktail time. Her favorite drink was a vodka martini with as many olives as she could get away with. Second place was Irish whiskey.
There’s an Irish ditty that goes:
There are many good reasons for drinking. One has just entered my head.
If a man doesn’t drink when he’s living, how the hell can he drink when he’s dead?
I have a special memorial gift for you to take home with you. This cocktail napkin has Mary’s name, date of birth, date of death, and a martini glass with two olives. Please take one or two as you leave, and raise a toast to Mary as you enjoy your favorite beverage over the next few days.
Let us finish our service with an Irish blessing:
These things, I warmly wish for you-
Someone to love, some work to do,
A bit of o’ sun, a bit o’ cheer.
And a guardian angel always near.
Mary Adams is now our guardian angel. Keep her memory burning bright in your heart. And keep telling her stories. As long as we remember the lives of those we love, they never truly die. As David Marshall plays Amazing Grace, please allow the family to exit first. They look forward to greeting you outside the chapel.
Bagpiper – Amazing Grace