Born in Asheville, NC, Mary Helen grew up in Springfield, MO. The summer
before 7th grade, she met Bob at church camp (her dad was the camp
director) and they became close friends. Mary Helen and Bob began dating
the summer before their senior year in high school.
Mary Helen earned an Associate of Arts degree from Cottey College before
graduating from the University of Missouri in 1963 with a Bachelor of Arts
degree in social work with a recreation emphasis.
She and Bob were married the first weekend after graduation, and moved
to St. Louis where Bob was working at the time. Later that year, the pair
relocated to Indiana so Bob could study for a Ph.D. in physics at Purdue
University, while Mary Helen worked at the local YWCA.
When Bob left Purdue to take a job with AT&T in Kansas City, Mary Helen
again found work at their local YWCA, also volunteering for a precursor to
the Head Start program at their inner-city church. It wasn’t long before Bob
felt called to become a pastor, rather than a middle manager, so off they
went to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. In Pittsburgh, Mary Helen first
worked for a children and family service, and then as an assistant dean at
Chatham College. They welcomed their first son, Doug, during Bob’s final semester.
Next they moved to Evanston, IL, where second son, Ben, joined the family.
This next chapter of their lives found Mary Helen busy as mother and wife,
and Bob occupied as a youth minister. After three years in Evanston, Bob
accepted an assistant pastor position in Peoria, IL. Bob and Mary Helen
participated in a marriage enrichment group where they learned how to
have good fights.
The family moved to Syracuse, NY in 1973. With both sons in school, Mary
Helen went back to work as a school social worker.
1979 brought the family to Arlington, VA, where Mary Helen earned a
Master’s in Social Work from Howard University and then worked for
George Washington Hospital and two hospices. As part of her work, she
discovered an adult home that was abusing seniors, and her efforts to
expose its violations led to its closing. For that work she was honored as
Metro Social Worker of the Year in 1989.
With both sons at college, Bob and Mary Helen moved to Columbus, OH in
1992. Bob was pastor of a church in the Ohio State neighborhood and Mary
Helen worked in the Ohio State University hospital system. Their family
continued to grow as Doug married Karen.
A few years later in 1999, Bob and Mary Helen were back in Northern
Virginia, where Bob did Interim Ministry. They again had cause for
celebration as Ben married Jenny. The next thing they knew, Bob and Mary
Helen had also welcomed four grandchildren into the family: Marney, Luci,
Julia, and Kevin. Over the years, Mary Helen continued to serve in churches
as both a leader and a volunteer geriatric care manager, work that meant a
lot to her, as well as to those she helped.
We, in her family, celebrate her deep love for us and others, her passion for
justice and peace, her humor, her smile, and her giving spirit.
In addition to immediate family, Mary Helen leaves:
- her sister, Anne McCabe, Anne’s husband, Tom, and their daughter, Erin.
- her brother, Jim Person, Jim’s wife Diane O’Brien, their daughter Katie (her husband, Dan, and their daughters Amelia and Lizzie), and their son Andrew.
- cousins and friends, too many to name – of whom, you here today are an important part.
If you would like to make a contribution in Mary Helen’s honor, two of her
favorite causes are:
- Cottey College, the wonderful women’s junior college Mary Helen
attended. Cottey helped Mary Helen grow from a somewhat insecure girl
into the confident young woman she became. Her class (’61) is supporting
a new student lounge, the “Chellie Club.” Send your gift to Cottey College,
1000 W. Austin, Nevada, MO 64772. To give online, go to cottey.edu and
follow links for giving. Select the radio button and designate: CCAA Chellie
Club, noting that your gift is in Mary Helen’s memory/honor.
- Rock Spring Congregational Church – The Peace Fund. This fund has
helped send members to Israel/Palestine and bring Palestinian Christians
here. To donate to this fund, go to rockspringucc.org/giving or send a
check to Rock Spring with “Peace Fund – Mary Helen Harris” in the memo