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Something About Mary

Something About Mary

There was something very special about Mary. She lived to be 96 and during her lifetime she was educated, married a wonderful man, was well-traveled, had children and grandchildren she adored and lived abroad for many years.

Sarah Owen, president & CEO of the Community Foundation, and I would meet Mary for coffee as often as we could. We wanted to listen to her stories and ask her for her insights and perspective on the world. We savored our vanilla lattes (her favorite) in a hip coffee shop. She loved the energy and spent many days there just reading and being part of society and the energy of our community.

Even in her advanced age, you would never see Mary without perfectly coifed hair and beautifully painted RED fingernails. Oh, she was such a delight.

She would “shoo” us off and cut our visits short because she thought we had so much more important things to do, but we didn’t. Talking with Mary was a priority and one of our favorite things to do.

Mary was a very cool “with it” lady. She kept up on technology and loved getting my emails on her iPad. When I caught on, I started sending her videos of Sarah’s speeches and events that she would miss as she grew more tired. I visited her several times in her little condo that was appointed with some beautiful worldly items like a framed Hermes scarf at the entry and marble inlaid bureaus and Limoges fine china.

Actually, I never really noticed her home so much until she was gone.

We called her the day after the hurricane (Irma) to check on her. By then she had been moved up the coast to be with her daughter to ride out the storm. Sarah spoke to her but I could hear her on the other end of the line say, “Oh Sarah, it is so lovely to hear your voice!” We always got that kind of reception from Mary.

Indeed, there was something very special about Mary. But a lot of that we learned later, after she left us. Sadly, she passed away shortly after that phone call, before we got to plan a drive up to see her.

We are told that she liked her new place and wanted to stay there near her daughter, that provided us with great comfort.  Recently we learned that she left half of everything she had to the Community Foundation for the things she cared about in the community and in the world. At first it knocked the wind out of us, then we felt real sadness. It is hard to lose someone so dear though our visits got fewer, they nourished us.

This special woman knew that the Foundation would be good stewards of her money, her belongings and her story. It was something that started under the former and beloved CEO Paul Flynn. That is the condolence that we hold on to.

As I sat in her humble home recently among her cherished belongings with her trustee at a table reviewing an inventory and appraisal of her things, I saw the kitchen drawer off its hinges. I pictured Mary just putting up with it as just part of her day.

Her trustee said she lived frugally because her goal was to give as much money away as she possibly could. With a lump in my throat I glanced over to a plaque of Jesus on her little desk surrounded by a metal can with pencils and a few notes and some books.

I am now planning an estate sale of Mary’s things with the proceeds to be deposited into her soon to be very sizable charitable fund at the Community Foundation.

Perusing her personal items gave me even more insight into this special worldly woman. I left her Whiskey Creek home that day feeling a little sad, and mostly empty yet I felt her hand in all of it. I thought to myself, after 96 years, it all comes down to this….some tea sets, some albums, some books, pencils and note paper and a few hankies (oh she was such a lady!).  It was then that I knew that her legacy is so much bigger than any “thing” in her home. And I knew the best thing we can do is carry out her wishes just like we do for the hundreds of people who came before her at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.

Simultaneously we are in the middle of our Foundation’s competitive grants cycle where we will award over $550,000 to local nonprofits this month. This money we grant was donated and endowed by the donors like Mary to help look after things these people cared about in their community. Wow.

This Friday we will go to her funeral to say a prayer and fond farewell to Mary. And then our work begins in her memory and in her honor because there was something very special about Mary.

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $5.4 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $115 million, it has provided more than $71 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. Currently, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are located off College Parkway in South Fort Myers, with satellite offices located on Sanibel Island, in LaBelle (Hendry County) and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit


Carolyn Rogers
Carolyn Rogers