Mary Elizabeth Gauthier died peacefully of natural causes at Lawrence Memorial Hospital in the pre-dawn hours of February 8, 2022, four days after she attained her 99th birthday. Through her characteristic foresight, Mary had placed herself under the care of the professional staff at Presbyterian Manor in Lawrence, where she resided during her final three years.
Mary was born on February 4, 1923 in Corning, Iowa as the third of six children. Early photographic evidence and long memories confirm that as the sole female child among five male siblings Mary’s daily wardrobe was limited to androgenous overalls; but they also document the wry wit and sense independence for which she became both admired and notorious as she aged gracefully.
Mary’s dad, Albert, was the editor/publisher of the Adams County Free Press where all family members contributed to the service of the community through the weekly gathering and publishing of the news in southwest Iowa. Maturing during the Great Depression infused providence into Mary’s soul but not at the expense of the generosity she instinctively extended to everyone she encountered.
Observing her parents endure the common anxiety of having three sons in precarious theaters of war in the early 1940s and watching as too many families received the dreaded Western Union telegrams that found their way into the Free Press offices, Mary incorporated empathy, compassion, and a resolute faith in the teachings of the Roman Catholic church into her fundamental identity.
Mary’s mother, Grace, was also an enduring influence in her life. When Albert died suddenly on Christmas Eve in 1949, Mary, her siblings, and a young “country girl” named Ilene Maeder who had moved into the household, collaborated to sustain Gramma Grace while she became the adhesive that held the family together.
As Grace aged, Mary embraced and held the extended family together even as it expanded from its Iowa roots to other states. By the time Grace died in 1971, Mary had become Family Central, meticulously monitoring the whereabouts and activities of her siblings and their families.
After attending Ottumwa Heights College and earning a B.A. from Marycrest Collège in Davenport, Iowa in 1951, Mary applied her office management training in multiple academic and business venues, including Marycrest and the Free Press, before becoming the Business Education Instructor at Corning High School in 1952.
In June of 1959 Mary made the bold and fateful decision to accept a position as the Coordinator of Office Education at Lawrence High School. That decision altered the trajectories of countless lives, including those of her family, LHS students and staff even long after she “retired” in 1986.
During her nearly three decades at LHS Mary established herself as a distinguished educator beloved by her students and professional peers.
Her memories of that career transition to Lawrence featured her respect for the USD 497 administrators who hired her and LHS staff members with whom she formed lifelong bonds of friendship and loyalty. She loved to share those feelings and reflections with others, especially the younger generations.
Mary’s recitations of that history and those anecdotes were also noteworthy for their humility, accuracy, and concentration on everyone but her. She appreciated, quietly, the multiple accolades she has received for her service to public education and business.
In 1980 Mary received the H.D. Shotwell Individual Service Award from Office Education of Kansas, and in 1975, the Kansas Vocational Association named her the state’s Outstanding Master Vocational Educator.
Mary also took pride, quietly, in her participation in and contributions to the Lawrence Business and Professional Women’s Club and St. John’s Catholic Church.
A singular indulgence Mary allowed herself was the personal connection with her namesake, Mary Gauthier, a New Orleans born and Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter who resides in Nashville, TN. Many years ago, Lawrence Mary was visiting her brother Dude and his family in Nashville. The two Marys encountered each other at one of Nashville Mary’s music performances there and they became gracious friends over the years.
Mary’s contributions to the Lawrence business community enrich it even decades later as her former students approach the twilight of careers she and her colleagues in the LHS Business Education Department opened for them.
Countless children of those students also bear and appreciate the renowned Mary Gauthier brand.
Mary is survived by her youngest brother, Gerald (“Dude”), sister-in-law, Cleo, and eighteen of her twenty-two nieces and nephews, along with three generations of their progeny. Mary sustained the deaths of her brothers Paul, Robert, Phillip, and Raymond; three sisters-in-law, Marcia, Mary Alice, and Mary Lou; one niece, Margaret; and three nephews, Michael, Christopher and Albert Leo, Jr.
Mary also is survived by countless friends in Lawrence, throughout the country, and at Presbyterian Manor where staff and residents miss her dearly. Many of those friends, including the Visiting Nurse Association and Meals on Wheels, earned Mary’s and her family’s gratitude for their years of service to her before she moved into Presbyterian Manor.
A Rosary will be recited at 6:00 p.m. with a visitation to follow until 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 3, 2022 at Warren-McElwain Mortuary in Lawrence.
Memorial masses will be held for Mary at St. John’s Catholic Church in Lawrence at 10:00 a.m. on March 4, 2022, and at her home parish, St. Patrick’s Church, in Corning, Iowa on April 9, 2022. To live-stream Mary’s service: https://youtu.be/lLNFYmANrxw
Burial ceremonies will be conducted at Calvary Cemetery in Corning following the mass with a reception at the historic Opera House there.
Memorials honoring Mary may be sent to St. John Catholic Church, Visiting Nurses Association, or the Lawrence School Foundation scholarship program and may be sent in care of Warren-McElwain Mortuary, 120 W. 13th Street, Lawrence, KS 66044.