Mary Connor: In Memoriam

Adolf Grünbaum

Let me offer you a sketchy retrospect on Mary's life here at the University.

In January 1985, Mary came to the Philosophy Department to be Wilfrid Sellars's secretary after the death of Ruth Durst. For the first eight months, she worked part-time, but switched to full-time in September. During the first few years, she actually worked not only for Wilfrid, but also for a number of other faculty members in Philosophy. When Wilfrid's health deteriorated, Mary looked after him like a truly dedicated mother: Besides regularly taking him grocery shopping, she brought him meals even on some weekends. One night his burglar alarm went off in the middle of the night, so he called Mary rather than the security company! She promptly put on her coat over her pajamas and drove to his house. But he would not come to the door when his bell rang. Thus, at that hapless hour, Mary had to find a telephone in his residential neighborhood. She ended up having to call him from a bar. More routinely, she got him to his classes and to his home thereafter.

Wilfrid died in 1989, whereupon I learned from his will that he had designated me to be the executor of his estate. At once, Mary characteristically offered me any help I might need over the next few years in working with his attorney and in dealing with other related matters.

Her devotion to Wilfrid was known beyond the confines of the Philosophy Department. When the Dean of FAS made a decision that would be very painful for Wilfrid, he took advantage of her dedication by asking her to assume the responsibility of informing Wilfrid of that untoward decision. Ever ready to stand up to anyone whom she thought to be doing wrong, Mary refused the dean's demand.

Wilfrid encapsulated his great respect and appreciation of her in a charming maxim: Mary, he said, was to secretaries what Napoleon was to generals!

Upon his death, she gave up her job in the Philosophy Department and became an Administrative Secretary in our Center for Philosophy of Science. Two years later, in 1991, Jerry Massey promoted her to the rank of Assistant to the Director, a position she held until her death last April. As Jerry put it to me, in these roles, she again proved herself a Napoleon.

I myself became the beneficiary of her warm heart, great empathic ability and practical wisdom. After 25 years of service to the university since 1960, I was dismayed by two episodes. In each of these distressing experiences, Mary was a tower of strength who offered me savvy counsel and became a kind of comrade-in-arms.

Yet that did not prevent her from showing withering disapproval of my incurable penchant for leaving no right-hand margins in any text I typed. And she noted how lucky I was that proper typing format is not part of my job description. Refreshingly, she minced no words to anyone about where she stood on any issue that mattered to her. Being like-minded, I relished her articulate candor.

After having heroically endured the disabling effects of surgery for her esophageal cancer, she was informed of her grave prognosis. From then until her death, she suffered her ordeal truly philosophically: In my frequent conversations with her in person or on the telephone until two weeks before her death, she continued to ask me about events at the University more often than she allowed me to ask her about her illness. I learned more on that score from her husband Earl, and from their three daughters Kathy, Kelly and Karen than from herself. My heart and that of my wife Thelma also went out to them in their tribulation and great loss. Thelma is very sorry that treatment for a painful pinched nerve this very afternoon is preventing her from being here to remember Mary.

I loved Mary and will always treasure her unfailing friendship. I miss her sorely.