Mary V. Flynn, the grande dame of Stockbridge and its politics, dies at 93


STOCKBRIDGE -- Mary Veronica Flynn II -- the grande dame of Stockbridge politics for seven decades and one of the staunchest advocates for her hometown throughout her life -- died Friday morning. She was 93.

Flynn, a retired teacher, was also a great supporter and believer in education and philanthropy. She was deeply religious and in fact, in her later years, she confided to many that she did not fear death.

"She was very progressive in her politics, but very conservative in her religion," said longtime friend and former selectman Thomas Stokes.

"She was an icon," said retired selectman George Shippey, who served with Flynn for many years on the Democratic Town Committee. "I am very, very saddened by this."

Her death was confirmed by Stokes and another close friend, Carole Owens.

Flynn was, for many years, the consummate politician. But Flynn is remembered as a politician who used reason, not volume, to get her point across.

"Mary would stop by my office on occasion to gently but politely make her case for her favored political candidate," said Eagle Editorial Page Editor Bill Everhart. "She had a wise perspective that is rare today.

"On her visits, she would always remind me that I was a student in her history class at Wahconah Regional High School. She didn't need to remind me; her classes were memorable. She is surely a major reason why I am a political junkie and history buff today."

"I may get angry at someone," Flynn told The Eagle in 1982, "but there isn't anybody out there I don't like."

"She used to say that people with two left feet or two right feet hobbled along," said Stokes. "She said she preferred to be more balanced."

"Mary was just one of those great people that you don't find anymore," said former selectman chairman J. Christopher Irsfeld. "I've always been a conservative Republican, and Mary was a dyed-in-the-wool Roosevelt Democrat."

Irsfeld recalled driving his 1913 Model T in the town's Memorial Day Parade every year and when Flynn got older, he offered her rides in the procession. She wouldn't sit in the back, but in the front with him.

"Every year she would put her hand on my knee, and say, ‘This is God's punishment for me riding in your car,'" Irsfeld said.

"A sweet, sweet lady, passionate about her politics, especially Democratic politics," said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli. "She will be sorely missed. She was one of kind.

"She was someone you could always count on to be supportive. She would also tell you if you did something wrong," Pignatelli continued. "You couldn't run for office without trying to get Mary's blessing first."

Politics was certainly one of Flynn's principal loves, but the Town of Stockbridge was always No. 1 on her list.

"I can't imagine living anywhere else in the world," she told an Eagle reporter in 1984. "I can't imagine anywhere else as beautiful."

"She single-handedly saved Gould Meadows, that large parcel located across from Tanglewood that runs to Stockbridge Bowl from being turned into a condo development," said Irsfeld. "She single-handedly raised the money to save it. Every time I drive by it -- there's a bench for her on the corner there, I just smile."

In August 1981, a ceremony was held at Gould Meadows where then-Gov. Edward J. King dedicated an oak tree to her.

Flynn was a member of the famous "tea group" in Stockbridge, which consisted of Flynn, actress Maureen Stapleton, dancer Marge Champion, actress Eleanor Wilson and author Carole Owens. The group met regularly for afternoon tea and lively discussion.

"Wouldn't you like to know?" said Owens, when asked what they discussed. "Anything and everything. Nothing was out of bounds."

Unfailingly polite, Flynn called nearly everyone ‘dear,' which was often off-putting for a reporter attempting to interview her.

Shippey, at a major Democratic fundraiser several years ago, recalled how Flynn called him "dear" when he called her on the telephone.

Shippey recalled her response: "Don't get too excited about that, George. I call [Republican] Cris Irsfeld ‘dear,' as well."

"She epitomized Stockbridge," said Kate Maguire, director of the Berkshire Theater Festival. "All that was quaint about Stockbridge, all the history of Stockbridge, and all the civility of Stockbridge. That was Mary Flynn, an astonishing, amazing woman."

Funeral arrangements were not complete on Friday.

Born in Stockbridge in 1920, Flynn graduated from the former Williams High School and North Adams State College. She also did graduate work at Yale University and Williams College, and studied at the New York State Historical Association in Cooperstown, N.Y.

She taught at schools in Mill River, West Stockbridge and Dalton. She retired from teaching in 1979. Flynn spent 36 years teaching in Central Berkshire Regional School District.

Flynn was also elected to head the Berkshire County Retired Teachers Association in 1981 and was elected head of the Berkshire County Teachers Association in 1965 when she was teaching at Wahconah.

Flynn was a great proponent of education. Well-read, she often quoted a wide variety of verses from memory.

She was a huge part of the fabric of Stockbridge. She was named the first director of Chesterwood in 1960. She was a supporter of the Norman Rockwell Museum, and a longtime member of the Laurel Hill Society, having been elected president in 1974.

She was elected to the executive committee of the Berkshire County Democratic Association in 1972 and elected chairman in 1980.

In 1980, Flynn was elected a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in support of the re-election of President Carter.

She first ran for the Select Board in Stockbridge in 1978 and was the first woman to serve on the board.

Also in 1980, Flynn was elected to the executive board of the Berkshire County Selectmen's Association.

Flynn never married, but she admitted in 1984 to an Eagle reporter that a great source of joy are the letters and cards former students sent to her from around the country. When she retired as a teacher many years ago, Flynn traveled to the local social security office to register. The clerk asked Flynn if she had any children.

"Thousands," she said.


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