Tribute to Mary Patenaude
Laughter, courage, joy, imagination. These are a few things that come to mind when we think of Mary.
David and Mary were married for 45 years and have two beautiful children, David Jr.and Jennifer. Mary’s poise, class, and elegance made David look good. He was lucky to have wooed Mary away from a future in the convent when he did. Their marriage was full to overflowing with compassion, tenderness, and laughter. As someone who was affectionately teased by her family, Mary took herself lightly and had the remarkable gift at being able to laugh at herself.
While Mary was the mother of two beautiful children, she was really mother to many. Her children and their friends recall the days spent together at the beach, weekends spent camping in the White Mountains, weeks spent on Block Island and Cape Cod. While the kids have fond memories of riding bikes, hiking, and swimming, they also remember the fun the grown ups had. When the kids were supposedly tucked into their tents, they remember the laughter around the campfire late into the night. There were stories, songs, games, shared tales of parenting and life’s mishaps. Mary and her friends invented Balderdash before it was a real game, back when it was as simple as having a dictionary, a few beers, the ability to tell and recognize bogus.
And Mary had a special gift for recognizing bogus. It earned her the name Scary Mary when her kids were teenagers and most of you 40ish year olds here know why. It was her mad detective skills portrayed in a look, a firm word, even a suspicious kiss good night. Mary knew when all of her kids were up to no good, and when they were up to great things. She had a transcendent understanding of what people needed, the way humanity worked, and she used this to nurture others. Mary listened with her whole body, her face laden with attention. Whichever angsty teenagers needed to sneak a cigarette while processing the difficulties of growing up, or spend the night again to get away from home, Mary was fully present.
The memories Mary created with her own children and her ability to play has been a gift to the next generation. Her son-in-law, Brad, recalls being told stories of Jen’s trips to Block Island and all the crazy fun they had. These adventures are being reshaped by Mary’s grandchildren who now have their own stories to tell about “The Block.” Her daughter-in-law, Rebecca, recalls being a single mom of a toddler when dating David Jr. His ability to play pretend, have tea parties, play dress up, strike a pose as an elephant or a tree, sealed the deal for her. Mary never lacked imagination. She fed her grandson’s rock star dreams by grabbing a broom or hockey stick and playing air guitar and dancing in the kitchen. Mimi had front row seats to every home-based broadway production put on by the grandchildren. If she needed a Hattie fix, she was lucky enough to be just down the street from her, and nothing would stop her from giving Ashely and Austin big bear hugs, even when Austin tried to wiggle out of them.
It was pretty clear that Mary threw the parenting books away when it came to her grandchildren. Jen and David as adults recall having to admonish Mimi at the kid’s bedtimes. She could be found tickling them and rolling around on the bed with them, doing anything but settling them down.
Mary’s openness to humanity and desire to create a space for everyone to feel included drove her commitment to community. She was not simply the proprietor of the Pomfret Spirit Shoppe but was a generous employer who appreciated, encouraged, and supported her employees. Mary served with numerous civic organizations that supported everything from children, to arts, education and health. She and David volunteered at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for 12 years, spending a week living in a cabin with medically fragile children. The staff appreciated both Mary’s wisdom as a mom and great ability to be silly. Mary was thrilled for the opportunity to play.
Mary was the glue that brought so many segments of the world together. She could gather people, from children to friends to board members to strangers. Jennifer remembers being embarrassed as a young child by Mary’s need to stare at people walking by until they made eye contact so she could smile and say hello. Mary made everyone feel valuable.
So Mary has gathered us together again. We each have value because Mary said so and who of us would doubt her? So now we have the opportunity to do right by Mary. Go dance in the kitchen, host a happy hour on the beach, laugh at yourself, play with the children in your life, smile at a stranger. Eat, drink, and be merry.