FARMINGTON – Tears, laughter, a decade’s worth of fond memories and a packed house marked Farmington’s memorial tribute to Board of Selectmen Chairwoman Mary Wright on Friday. She died Sunday at the age of 73.
The gathering was held in the large Community Center room where town meetings usually take place.
Val Lambert only knew Wright from the Channell 11 showings of each week’s selectmen’s meeting, she said. But what she saw impressed her. “She held her ground,” Lambert smiled. “She was everybody’s mother,” she added.
Wright was remembered first by selectmen and Town Manager Richard Davis. Each had different anecdotes, and each shed tears before leaving.
“What a great boss Mary was,” Davis said. He recalled her entry into Farmington politics when she worked to keep the Walton’s Mill dam intact, and he talked about her ability to simultaneously fight for her opinions and be kind to her opponents, a theme that ran straight through the hour-long service.
“She ran a tight ship,” Davis said. He remembered visiting her in the hospital in late December, where she was being treated for pulmonary fibrosis. She had just finished watching the last board meeting on Channel 11. “‘The boys did a good job,'” Davis quoted her.
“She sent cards for no specific reason,” Davis said. “She never forgot a birthday.” Selectman Stephan Bunker remembered his first years on the board, when Wright was the first – and only – female selectman. “I didn’t know quite how to take the plain-speaking female,” he said, chuckling.
He recalled one meeting when they sat side-by-side, in fierce opposition about some issue. After a close vote, she abruptly called for a recess, and Bunker wondered if she was about to take him to task, he said. “She reached under the table,” he said, “and brought out a birthday cake, with chocolate frosting.” Bunker stopped to catch his breath.
On his last visit to the hospital, he said, he hoped to find her resting. He found her talking on the phone while simultaneously e-mailing friends and relatives, having just finished watching Channel 11. “She hadn’t missed a beat at all,” he said.
“As I watched her these last nine months,” Selectman Charles Murray remembered, “what an example of dignity facing adversity.”
“I’m going to miss her,” he said, “but I’ll always have our friendship.”
Wright’s son, daughter, and son-in-law offered different perspectives on her character – as a teacher, a joker, a wonderful mother-in-law and a great friend.
Son James Wright recalled the flights of generosity that had his mom paying tolls for strangers, buying breakfast for kids on the sly, and baking pan after pan of cookies for community members.
She had a newspaper clipping saved, he said, from when she was re-elected as a selectman. Someone had written in “Bless Mary Wright. You can’t shut her up.” She loved that, he said.
“How many 40-year-olds still get a cake and presents from their mom on their birthday,” Wright said.
Pulmonary fibrosis usually kills sufferers within two to three years, Wright said. His mom lived for eight.
“I look at it as a blessing,” he recalled her saying. It brought the family closer, and her friends were so helpful, Wright remembered. “That’s mom.”
Finally, service-goers got to hear from Wright herself, in an excerpt of a TV interview. She recalled her college years in Farmington half a century ago, her entry into town politics, and discussed the importance of speaking up for what you believe in.
“Farmington made me what I am,” Mary Wright said. “It brought out the good – hopefully the good (in me).”
The town, obviously, returns the compliment.