SOLON — Mary Farrar has shown families autopsy photos before a trial so they could brace themselves. She’s coached distraught siblings to yell at her, not the judge, when they just had to yell at someone.

She’s had to gently ask a grieving mother to put away rosary beads in court when an attorney thought they made her look too sympathetic. For 21 years, she soaked up strangers’ tears.

After all, she could relate.

The woman who thought in high school that she might make a career out of taking airline reservations would spend more than two decades as a victim advocate after her older brother, William, was killed. He was 29, shot at the family scrap metal business in New Jersey.

She didn’t mention that during the job interview at the Somerset County District Attorney’s Office. Farrar remembers, at the time, she didn’t want people to look at her differently. But it might have been personal history that helped make her good at the job.

Last month, Farrar was honored by the local American Red Cross as a Community Outreach Real Hero and inducted into the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame.

She smiles more than one would guess when she talks about the families and the work. It didn’t get to her, she said.

It helped.

“All my suits, I bet they have thousands and thousands of tears on them,” said Farrar, 63. “I never thought about that (before). But all those tears made me stronger.”

She was 25, at her in-laws’ farmhouse in East Madison, when her mother called to tell her about her brother. It was a Monday, business had been slow and William, freshly off vacation, had told their father to take the day off; he could handle things.

“Three guys pulled up in a car and pulled a gun on him and shot him for no reason,” Farrar said. He was hit in the shoulder, which led to a massive hemorrhage. The men took $700 from his pocket then shot up the rest of the office. “Workers were diving into the bathroom.”

In Maine, it was hunting season. Farrar, her husband, Bob, their 6-month-old baby Amanda, Bob’s mother, a friend and a deer piled into the car for the seven-hour drive back home. When he died, William left a wife and four children.

“In the beginning you get all the support,” Farrar said. “Then you get people saying things, ‘Well, it’s been a year now ….'”

She and Bob, as well as Farrar’s parents, eventually moved to Maine. She volunteered at her daughter’s school, then worked part time as a bank teller when she saw the DA’s office want ad for a victim advocate. She started in February 1990 helping victims of sex crimes, assault and attempted murder.

“That’s when my journey really began, and I realized this is where I was supposed to be,” Farrar said.

In April 1996 she took a similar job with the state Attorney General’s Office working with homicide victims’ families. Around the same time she connected with the Maine Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children.

“They helped me walk through the darkness,” and the anger and frustration she’d tucked away after William, she said.

With the AG’s Office, Farrar reached out to families, sometimes within hours. She explained the legal process, attended funerals, paid visits, sat with them at trial and read victims’ impact statements in court when their own voices failed. Work brought her around the state. She helped families at most of the murder trials in Lewiston and Western Maine in recent memory.

“Did I go home and cry and get angry? Yes. But I couldn’t let them know that,” Farrar said.

She stayed connected with many of them. The family of a Lewiston woman murdered in 1996 came to Farrar’s Hall of Fame induction to cheer her on.

Farrar retired in October, working then for the Department of Corrections in Victim’s Services. Three Bernese mountain dogs, one of them a “grand-dog,” have kept her busy, as have volunteering and acting as what she jokingly calls a “Sherpa mom” during Amanda’s Iron Man competitions.

“I’m never going away,” Farrar said. “There’s a hearing coming up for some of our (chapter) members; we always try to attend those for support. The more they know and understand, I think it helps with the recovery process. You don’t heal from this. It’s not something you ever heal from, you recover. You find ways to cope.”

Know someone who’s touched others’ lives? We’re always looking for ideas. Contact staff writer Kathryn Skelton at 689-2844 or [email protected]

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