Mary Moser, linguist, artist and friend

12/16/2010

Mary Moser, a woman with a passionate exuberance for life and radiant joie de vivre, passed away on December 3 at her home in Inverness. A fierce survivor, she had been dealing with cancer for more than 12 years. When Mary had a fall the day after Thanksgiving, she thought she would recover. She did not expect to die at age 64.

Mary was born in State College, Pennsylvania, where her mother was a teacher and her father a professor of Portuguese and Spanish at Pennsylvania State University. Mary earned a Bachelor’s Degree in anthropology there, and later traveled to Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, building the foundations for her career as an expert restorer of fine rugs: Andean, Central Asian, Middle Eastern and Navajo. 

Mary was a student and then a colleague of eminent textile artists in the Bay Area, respected and revered for her highly skilled craft and scholarly knowledge. She had a precise eye and talent for fine work, which she did with great love and an exquisite aesthetic sense. She was a fine artist, and repeatedly enrolled in painting, drawing, and sculpture courses at College of Marin. She was a member of a figure drawing group, and friends treasure her sketches of Tomales Bay and local landscapes they received as gifts.

A lover of literature, Mary was a familiar presence in the Inverness Library. She had an astounding knowledge of art history, and one of her annual highlights was joining the June 14 worldwide reading aloud of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Her happiest times in childhood were when speakers of different languages would visit her parents’ home. She became fluent in Italian and French, and relished both languages. Mary loved all things Italian: culture, cuisine and opera. She traveled to Italy when she could, and joined the local Italian-speaking group. Scoby Zook, another member of the group, recalls how she blossomed whenever a native speaker joined them, exhilarated and elated by the challenge. She was a perfectionist in pronunciation and intonation. 

Jeanette Pontacq, a member of the local French-speaking circle, says that Mary spoke from her gut rather than from book learning—all the while exhibiting remarkably good grammar. Mary did study, though; her textbooks are stuffed with notes that reveal she was learning for the delight of it. Friend Carla Ruff recounts Mary’s glee when she trounced her at scrabble in French.

Mary was known for her hospitality, cooking memorable meals based on whatever she had at hand. She loved good food, and later loved the meals that others made for her as long as she had an appetite. The day before she died, she was appreciating Straus ice cream. She treasured classical music, and programmers at KWMR were accustomed to her studio phone calls. Mary loved Bach, but her most enthusiastic calls came in during Susannah Henderson’s Opera Fridays.

Mary used to get standing room tickets to the San Francisco Opera. Days before she died, she accepted an invitation from her friend Judith Smith Ciani to a performance of Madame Butterfly. Mary had energy for only the first act, but her effort in going was testimony to her determination to experience and enjoy the things she loved in life.

A renaissance woman, Mary was also involved with native plants, wildflowers, birds and the Inverness Tuesday Irregulars; she joined their long hikes on often obscure trails, but would frequently take off in her own direction. She was a member of the Greyhawks, who knew her for her excitement about the unknown places birding took them. She marched to her own drummer, says friend Rigden Currie.

It was Tomales Bay that Mary loved most of all. She rowed long distances almost every day of the year, sometimes at midnight. She swam whenever she could at Shell Beach, where she was distinctive because often she wore her hat in the water. Friend Loyal Tarbet describes her as a “water person.” As a youngster, Loyal met Mary while spending time with the legendary Clayton Lewis at Laird’s Landing, where Mary lived for some time. Mary was working on her textiles in the “tower,” but always seemed to have time for conversations with Loyal, to be present without chiming in about herself. She was full of mystery.

As Mary grew weak, she became unable to row herself but was able to be helped into her boat until a week before she died. As she moved over the water, Mary’s spirit would settle, and her burdened lungs would expand. It was this surcease that gave her respite in the struggle to survive. 

Mary was intensely private, never speaking about herself or mentioning her cancer. As she came close to dying, and even after her death, her face took on a special beauty. She was a thread in the tapestry of West Marin, Suzanne Taylor says—that thread, now pulled, will be missed.

A ceremony for the dead was recently held for Mary, led by Stuart and Carrie Kutchins for their weekly meditation group of which Mary was an early member. Friends and neighbors helped her with an outpouring of generosity: most of all her neighbor, Margo Wing, who took care of her every morning over a long time. There are others, too many to name and some unknown, each important in epitomizing the astonishing generosity of a community that supports wholeheartedly and unsung its neighbors in need. Susan Deixler of West Marin Senior Services, attorney Martha Howard and Diane Levy gave numerous challenging hours of help before and after her death.

Mary’s ashes will be scattered off Chicken Ranch Beach on December 19 at 10:30 a.m. Chairs will be available for those who find it difficult to  bring warm clothing and rainwear. A potluck memorial will follow at the home of Judith Smith Ciani at 100 Stirling Way, in Inverness. Turn onto Rannoch from Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, right from Shell Beach or left from Point Reyes Station, immediately north of the Vision Road turnoff.  Continue up the hill until you reach a large intersection, where there is parking. The house is immediately opposite; there are eight parking spaces there for people with difficulty walking. For information please call (415) 663.8658.

 

Mary is survived by her brother Andrew, of Annapolis; her cousin, Robert Engels, of Starnberg, Germany; and her 21-year-old cat, Pinta. Mary hoped to look after Pinta until the cat’s death, but it was Pinta who sat vigil for Mary during the days after Mary became bedridden, and for several hours after her death. Jeanette adopted Pinta; both decided she deserves to live out her final years in luxury and leisure. Contributions in Mary’s memory can be made to West Marin Senior Services, P.O. Box 791, Point Reyes, CA 94956, or to Hospice of Petaluma, http://caringcommunity.org or 416 Payran St., Petaluma.