Last Friday dawned bright and clear, but by mid-afternoon rain clouds were looming above the St. Wilfrid’s Episcopal Church in Marion, Alabama. Memories flooded my mind as I walked up the drive to take my place in one of the pews. Years before, as a college student, I had been given a drawing assignment which led me to the small cemetery behind the church. It is a place of quiet, solitude shaded beneath huge, old oak trees. I remember the peace I felt sitting in that place all those years ago – listening to the sounds of birds chirping, squirrels scampering, and the wind blowing gently through the branches of the trees. On this day I returned, not to complete a creative endeavor, but to celebrate the life of a literary treasure of Alabama’s Black Belt.
Many gathered…joining me with the same mission in mind…the celebration of the life of our friend, Mary Ward Brown. For some the relationship with her ran deep and wide, while others like me, had experienced brief encounters with this precious woman. All, however, had been touched profoundly by her gentle spirit, loving kindness, creative words, and transparency. Although, most of her days were spent quite simply on her family farm in Perry County, Mary T. (as she was called by many), was a friend to everyone. Our mutual friend, Carol Ann Vaughan Cross, wrote recently, “I loved her mutual admiration society with so many wonderful authors, artists, musicians, historians and “plain folk,” although she was anything but plain.” This was so very obvious to me, as I sat in the church last Friday afternoon. I saw representatives of Judson College (where she graduated in 1938), the University of Alabama, Auburn University, Auburn University at Montgomery, the University of West Alabama, the Black Belt Hall of Fame, and the Alabama’s Writer’s Forum as well as photographers, artists, writers, farmers, a veterinarian, a doctor, young people whom she had mentored, lifelong friends; and of course, there was her son, daughter-in-law and beloved granddaughters. A church filled to capacity – a testament to this dear mother, grandmother, colleague, and friend who had invested her life so well. Her roots ran deep in this land we call the Black Belt, truly her presence, wisdom, and talent will be missed. Farewell dear friend.