To paraphrase a line in To Kill a Mockingbird, stand up child a great man is passing, as Scout’s father, Atticus Finch, leaves the court room.
After her sudden and unexpected death, I stand up for Mary Gautreaux.
She was a tireless, behind-the-scenes defender of Oregon’s wild places and of the many hungry and powerless people who live here. Mary worked as Deputy State Director for U.S. Senator Ron Wynden for nearly thirty years. She spent those years reminding him of what needed doing, driving with him around Oregon for countless meeting in tiny towns to hear what the people wanted and needed. Her sudden death left his office, her hundreds of friends and neighbors, with a giant hole in their lives. Mine as well.
Mary was a force of nature, as many said who came together to celebrate her life. But she was also a careful listener who made everyone she met feel that she liked them and valued them. I never saw her without a big smile or without a story to tell that was worth listening to.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Mary and why she made such an impact on me. I had only met Mary a few times. (She lived down the block from a good friend and had a habit of dropping in.) We would say that Mary always followed her glass of champagne into a room. First the glass, then Mary. She knew how to make an entrance, that woman.
It wasn’t her entrances that entranced, although they were perfect. It was that Mary was fearless when she saw a problem. She spoke up when it was needed. She made connections between people, when connecting could make something happen. She lived every moment with purpose. Her voice moved mountains. Her passing created canyons of loss.
And her passing created a flood of stories. Senator Wyden, who spoke about Mary on the Senate floor, said that talking to Mary’s true friends was more difficult. Everything he shared was met with nods and chuckles. We all knew he was sharing the truth. He said wherever they drove, the car was filled with food. Driving through an intersection with Mary was dangerous because she was ready, in an instant, to fling open the car door and give food to anyone she felt was in need.
Generous, passionate, willing and able. She worked until the very end on her hospital bed at home, the door open to anyone who wanted to talk. She’s gone and there is a huge hole to fill. Take heed. Time is passing so quickly. Speak up now as Mary did and make sure that the ideas you believe in are heard.
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