“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
— Mahatma Gandhi
Gandhi never met Mary DeArmond to my knowledge, but his insight into successful living has her name all over it.
In fact, my dear friend Mary lived up to the challenge until the day she died at her desk, likely reading her morning paper on a machine that allowed her to magnify the print. Yes, she had learned how to live with her macular degeneration without giving up the things she loved.
She also managed to make us think that indeed she would live forever — Mary died a month short of her 98th birthday. When I last saw her just a few weeks ago, she was in the role of host of a dinner group attended by 10 of her friends. That’s right. She coordinated — with some help — a garden party for us in her home.
And here’s how I know that Mary was still learning. That same day she proudly introduced me to an Alexa device in her study.
“Play some Nat King Cole, Alexa,” commanded Mary. Soon the the dulcet tone of Cole’s voice filled the house with “Unforgettable.” Mary was mighty pleased with herself and the latest technology that allowed her to live on her own even with limited sight.
I have always thought of Mary as a lifelong learner, but it hit me Saturday morning during her funeral just how long she’s kept right on learning. She packed a lot into her almost 98 years.
Her granddaughter, in praise of her grandmother, noted that Mary was born in 1921, the same year that Warren Harding was president and when women had been able to vote for less than a year. The Great Depression was still a few years away, and Mary was just beginning her learning journey — one that lasted almost a century.
There was none of this once and done kind of stuff for Mary. She raised a family and then entered the job market as a paralegal and later a legal assistant. At age 60 (my age) Mary decided she would embark on the journey to earn her Bachelor of Arts from Missouri Southern State College. That wasn’t enough though. A year later she earned a master’s degree from Pittsburg State University and in 1989 took an appointment as a lecturer in English at Missouri Southern. While many of her peers were considering their retirement, my friend Mary was just getting started.
I met Mary a short eight years ago and quickly realized I had stumbled upon a crown jewel. That was the day I set my own sight on a woman wearing a bright red bathing suit doing the breast stroke in the waters of Table Rock Lake. At age 90, she could swim with power and purpose. I would later learn that’s how she had done almost everything in her life.
I will miss this wonderful woman who was still curious about life, who called me when she agreed or disagreed with something in the Globe or simply sent me notes of support because she believed in doling out praise along with criticism.
I guess I enjoyed Mary so much that I never realized that she was teaching me there are no limits to the acquisition of knowledge, and no one — no matter their age — should get a pass on learning.
Cheers to my friend and my mentor, who no doubt is already exploring a new universe with the same enthusiasm with which she was born. I am better for having known Mary DeArmond.
Carol Stark is the editor of The Joplin Globe. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.