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Monday, 14 January 2013

Mary B. Summerlin – R.I.P.

By Lyn Burnstine

[EDITOR'S NOTE: I am deeply sorry to report that last week one of this blog's most popular and prolific contributors, Mary B. Summerlin, has died. She was a wonderful writer and left an excellent collection of stories here.

She and another regular contributor, Lyn Burnstine, were close friends and Lyn graciously agreed to write a remembrance for us.

Mary began sending stories to ESP three years ago and you can find links to them here. There are hundreds of her photographs on her Flickr page.

Mary on Hudson River Walkway

I said goodbye last week to a wonderful woman, Mary B. Summerlin, my buddy and a frequent Elder Storytelling contributor who sometimes wrote as “Mayrie” - the soft sound of her name as spoken in her own South Carolina accent.

We do have a tendency to praise people who have left this earth as if they had been perfect. I’m an inveterate reader of obituaries, so I know this.

Not every woman who dies can possibly have been “the most wonderful wife, mother and grandmother, living only for her family.” However, my close friend, Mary, who died on January second, just may not have one single detractor on this planet. She was all of those things, and so much more.

She was well-loved by so many people, that I’m sure it will be quite a feat to squeeze them all into the memorial service.

She had been a popular teacher for many years, always jolly yet in charge and full of the wonderful stories that led her into a career as a professional storyteller after retirement.

Her laugh was legendary, her warmth and caring also. Her great love of nature and animals fed her storehouse of stories.

This large woman did everything in a large way. Not content to be just a member of organizations she felt strongly about, she’d soon end up as president of them.

She acquired a camera, initially taking photos of her two precious granddaughters and her many pets. Before long, she was exhibiting and selling them.

She began writing down her oral stories and soon became a blogger, delighting with her southern voice and viewpoint. She became a popular leader of memoir-writing workshops.

And the animals! Hilarious tales of her stint as a pet sitter found their way into her repertoire as well as delightful photos of her own menagerie (two dogs, three cats) and the wildlife surrounding her house in the woods.

Mary the storyteller

Mary and I were first drawn together by our commonalities: we were divorced, single moms of grown kids; we were grandmothers; we were both Unitarian-Universalists; we were writers and performers; we were nature lovers; we were near the same age, and we loved to laugh. Oh, boy, did we love to laugh!

As the years drew us ever closer and added to our travail, we laughed even harder – the more tragic our stories might sound to someone else, the funnier we found them!

She was in and out of hospitals dozens of times in her last year and we got a lot of mileage out of her dubbing it, “the spa.”

MARY: Guess where I’m calling from?

ME: Don’t tell me you’re back in the spa again?

When we were younger, we toured and performed together as storyteller and folksinger. We traveled to storytelling festivals, arts conferences and to Cape Cod vacations.

Our greatest bond crept up on us – photography. I got interested in scenic shots first, then Mary did and by the time she handed down to me my first digital camera, we were both hooked.

The timing was perfect since our wings had been clipped by aging and illnesses by then. We shared hundreds of hours taking the shots and viewing each other’s products.

Mary the photographer

She became my sister-friend. When I said good-bye to Mary before the morphine haze put her out of reach to hear and respond, I was able to say again, I love you, you’ve been the best friend anybody could ever have had and you’ve been the sister I wished I’d had.

She, who had been my sounding board during many long years of frustration with my blood sister, responded with a faint little chuckle. We both laughed – a fitting closure to our 25 years of laughing together.

Sister-friends, Mary & Lyn

We were never able to capture on film the bald eagles that we chased for two winters. I like to imagine her spirit soaring high with them now.


R.I.P. Mary

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I know your personal loss is immense, and so many are mourning Mary's passing, but what a joy to have had such a friendship. Hugs to you my friend. As always your writing comes straight from your heart.

Oh Lyn, you nailed it! I miss Mary but now realize my loss is nothing compared to yours. Aren't we lucky to have the friends we have, even though it's not forever? Thank you for reminding us all of what we just lost.

such a beautiful tribute to a beautiful soul! Thank you, Lynn. and you were the one to reintroduce me to Mary, so I thnk you for that, too!

Lynn, well written, those friendships over time cannot be replaced but we treasure our memories..

Yes, Lyn, "well written". I never met Ms Summerlin and being new to the Elder Storytelling Place, never read anything by her. But your moving and descriptive letter will keep her alive in my thoughts. In other words, she has already brought her influence to bear.
Arlene Corwin

Lyn: A loving tribute to your friend. I often bemoan the fact that even though many of us have a lot in common we don't even know each other but you were lucky. You had Mary and she had you. Many women don't really know how to laugh, but I am sure the two of you were really good at it. Just that brings a smile to my face.

Arlene and others, You can go into her archives, if you wish, just by finding her name in the little storyteller box on the right side of the page, under Ronni's column.

Oh, belonging to ESTP has so many benefits. Who would have thought the friendships and rekindled memories would bloom in this lovely "Story Garden." Thank you Lyn for the beautiful tribute, farewell but not forgotten Mary!!
And the wonderful archives live on.

There are links to Mary's ESP stories and to her Flickr page in my intro above to Lyn's lovely remembrance.

Thank you for the beautiful tribute to an extraordinary woman!

What a dear she was.!

Dear Lyn,

I will miss Mary and her stories and Photos.

I especially liked her descriptions of people she met in the story called "Little Old Ladies".

It was so clever and amusing the way she described the different personalities of the ladies in the diner.

I agree that new readers like Arlene and old readers like ourselves should go back and reread some of the wondeful stories that she wrote.

You were lucky to have each other as friends.

RIP Mary..

The funny photo/cartoon of us was taken by Sheila Bogart, a wonderful photographer friend to both Mary and me.

Such sweet remembrances - and photos to keep reminding you of them! I can only imagine how much you will miss her.

Thank you, Lyn, for such a nice tribute, She will indeed be missed by many.

Thank you for sharing your reflections on your relationship with Mary. It is a beautiful tribute to an obviously very special friendship.

I always loved reading Mary's stories, as I love yours Lyn. I'm glad you shared such a rich and rewarding friendship. The most difficult part of getting old is not the physical pain but the pain of parting from those we love, through time, distance, and the finality of death. But let us live while we live, and love freely as the wind blows on a summer's day. Rest in Sweet Peace Mary

How sad the stillness of any strong voice. Even those people whose lives were touched in just a little way are sad. Thank you for sharing your lovely words here for all of us.

Thank you, Lyn.
What a beautiful remembrance. And what a great friendship!
I didn't know Mary well, but was so happy to have been with her several times and experienced her wonderful take on life, her warmth, and good humor.


Thank you Lyn and Ronni, I too felt like I knew her, as if I know you two also..I will read all her pieces and think of her now that you have shared the pictures, that is an extra treat..We are a band of little old ladies for sure, she will be missed even with having her writings to look at..glad to have known her and all the new friends..having her writing available, it is nice to think she is just away..bon voyage, safe sailing..

A fine tribute. Of personal interest was learning that two fellow UUs created stories I've enjoyed here.

And now Lyn, you've made this farewell a loving part of Mayrie's life story. We were all touched by her writings and because she did others can be as well. The power of the written word lasts.

Now, that I am taking more engagements to tell stories, I'll keep her colorful picture and posture in mind.

Thank you both.

Thank you all so much. I'll be reading this piece at her memorial service on Saturday, then presenting a bound copy of all of Mary's posts to her son, daughter-in-law and granddaughters, complete with all of your lovely comments.


You make me want to know Mary. It's such a rare and special thing to have found such a comrade in this life. Cheers to your memories, and to Mary's spirit living on.

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