Remembering Mary V. Flynn: 'The grand dame of Stockbridge and its politics'

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For each of the last several years, we’ve met on December 15 at Mary Flynn’s grave in Stockbridge to commemorate her birthday and reminisce about her remarkable life, her legacy as a teacher and public servant, and the many experiences we were each privileged to have with her.

Today, we will celebrate her 100th birthday with some hot chocolate. (Something stronger would be tempting on a cold December day, but Mary was a teetotaler, and we’d like to think of her as joining us for a toast.) On this occasion, we’d like to share a few of our reflections about her.

Grace and comity

Mary’s commanding presence and influence are especially grounding for us during these days of political turmoil and partisan vitriol. Mary was certainly highly partisan in her politics, but she always expressed her political views with grace and comity.

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In the July 20, 2013, Berkshire Eagle obituary, “Mary V. Flynn, the grande dame of Stockbridge and its politics, dies at 93,” Editorial Page Editor Bill Everhart is quoted saying, “Mary would stop by my office on occasion to gently but politely make her case for her favored political candidate. 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.”

Later in the article, Mary is quoted as saying, “I may get angry at someone, but there isn’t anybody out there I don’t like.” This reminds us of what another staunch Catholic recently said on the national stage. When asked by a reporter if she hated President Trump, Nancy Pelosi shot back, “I don’t hate anybody. I was raised in a Catholic house. We don’t hate anybody. … Don’t accuse me of hate. … Don’t mess with me.” As much as Mary lived by the adage, which she often cited, that one “catches more flies with honey than with vinegar,” her sweetness was complemented by a resolute determination not to be cowed by perceived bullies.

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Indeed, as we toast Mary today, we’ll smile as we remember a few times when we each witnessed Mary standing her ground against behavior and actions she deemed antithetical to democratic governance or civil discourse, fearlessly using “don’t mess with me” language, similar to Pelosi’s. We’ll also smile as we imagine her praying from on high for Trump and as we imagine her smiling benevolently at our modest efforts to do the right thing.

Mary delighted in using humor to get her points across. When asked if there was a discrepancy between her conservative views on Catholicism and her progressive politics, she would say that people with two right feet or two left feet hobbled along veering to the right or left, while she preferred a steadier, more balanced and grounded approach that utilized both feet.

From a hard-working family

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We were fortunate to have known Mary and worked with her for many years. She was the daughter of Ida and Michael Flynn and lived her entire life in Stockbridge, in the same family house on Shamrock Street. Michael was older (born prior to the Civil War) and died when Mary was about 11. Ida was her companion for over 60 years. They took care of each other. Younger brother Billy was the baby whom she fussed over for his entire life.

The Flynns were a hard-working Irish family who cherished the Church and worshiped at St. Joseph’s. Both Mary and Bill graduated from Stockbridge’s Williams High School. Mary went on to North Adams State (MCLA) and Bill went to war, where he was shot down over Burma and became a P.O.W. for 17 months. He later lived near Washington, D.C., and worked for the CIA.

Mary went on to teach for almost 40 years, to serve on the Stockbridge Board of Selectmen for 15 years, and to work with and help lead a number of environmental and civic organizations, all with notable distinction. Politically, Mary and Bill were opposites, but as with Ida, they too had a close bond and looked after each other.

As we toast Mary, we’ll marvel once again at how she managed to inspire so many of the people she taught and worked with, how she managed to encourage them on their paths and give them hope (which was especially true for a number of the young women she taught, who went on to have successful careers), and how she encouraged all of us to take our work and missions in life very seriously, but not to take ourselves too seriously.

John A. Beacco lives in Lee and Tom Stokes in Stockbridge.


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