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Resident Spotlight: Mary R.

Calling Highlands resident Mary R. an adventurous soul would be a serious understatement. Her life story is one of many interesting chapters, and she is a captivating teller of tales.

Mary’s travels began early. After growing up in Richmond, Virginia, she moved to Washington, D.C., in 1948 in search of employment. She applied at the U.S. State Department, where she took, and passed, a rather rigorous exam and was placed at the U.S. Agency for International Development. After working there for about four years, she was presented with the opportunity to work in Bangkok, where she became a secretary in the local education department. The department was a small group, which enabled Mary to meet many of Siam’s dignitaries. After being there for almost two years, she became sick with a mysterious illness, and was sent home.

Rather than taking the dreadful flight from Bangkok to home, however, she was able to book passage on a ship from Saigon to Marseilles, and then fly home from there. On board the ship with her were officers from Saint-Cyr, the West Point of France. She explains, with a laugh and gleam in her eye that all those officers appeared for dinner in their dress whites, the moon was full over the ocean, and the ship’s orchestra played every night, making for a very romantic trip!

Mary returned to Washington, regained her health, and worked for a couple of years with the USAID. In 1955 she decided it was time for a change. So, with $300 to her name, she was off to another destination. She had a good feeling about this trip because, as soon as she hit San Francisco, a rainbow appeared! At a friend’s suggestion she applied for and landed a job in the president’s office of the American President Lines Steamship Company. She describes her job as stressful but wonderful. Her boss was considerate and generous to all his employees, once inviting his secretaries to lunch aboard one of the ships in port. Mary lived in a furnished walk-up studio apartment with a Murphy bed that, when opened, slanted downhill just like the building, built on one of the city’s steep hills. Best of all, she had a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Mary was successful and eventually moved to a great third-floor walk-up at the top of Nob Hill in San Francisco. Her apartment had a fireplace and a beautiful view of the city.

When her boss retired, he told Mary to pick a place she wanted to go and he would arrange the transfer. She first chose New York City, but her boss discouraged that decision, telling her the city “was a zoo.” Mary then elected to move back to Washington, where she worked in the local APL office for eight years, for a boss who she says was not nearly as nice or considerate as his predecessor

Mary decided to shift gears once again and she took a job with the law firm of Shea & Gardner. This job was hard and stressful, but interesting as well. She witnessed some big cases, including Anita Hill’s testimony during the Clarence Thomas Senate confirmation hearings. Mary worked at the law firm until she retired in 1986.

Mary’s wanderlust continued in retirement. She worked one day a week for Mr. Gardner and used her earnings to travel. She visited Spain, Morocco, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Ireland, England, and Italy, to name a few. She also volunteered at the Smithsonian Institution for about 20 years. As a monitor at the museum, she was able to attend any lectures she wanted and took full advantage of that, attending talks related to art, history, and even a few courses on religion!

Mary began her adventure here at Kensington Park in 2018 and has enjoyed every minute. At Mary’s 100th birthday celebration this past July, her family, Highlands’s residents and team members raised a glass to toast Mary. She believes that you need to live ‘one day at a time’ and here she is 100 years later… or 36500 days – and living each one to the fullest.