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home > community > viewpoint > an ocean away, but close to our hearts: we'll miss mary

An ocean away, but close to our hearts: we'll miss Mary
Anyone who has come to know Mary Collins is not at all surprised by the fact that her departure from Boston is making a far bigger fuss than did her arrival here in June of 1992, although God knows she doesn't want it that way. Given her choice, Mary would just as soon slip out of town with a few good-byes to her closest friends, and promises to keep in touch.

An ocean away, but close to our hearts: we'll miss Mary

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By Don Allison
Posted Wednesday, 4 September, 1996

Anyone who has come to know Mary Collins is not at all surprised by the fact that her departure from Boston is making a far bigger fuss than did her arrival here in June of 1992, although God knows she doesn't want it that way. Given her choice, Mary would just as soon slip out of town with a few good-byes to her closest friends, and promises to keep in touch. I can tell you when she says she'll keep in touch she really means it. I wish I had a dollar for every letter I saw her write in the past few years, full of news and caring thoughts posted and sent back to Ireland, England, Australia, or any number of places around the world where she has touched those around her and developed sincere friendships.

On a cold January Tuesday night in January of 1993, I traveled down to Boston to begin a Boston Marathon training class I used to teach for the Learning Adventure adult education center. These classes were designed to help folks fulfill the dream of completing the Boston Marathon. This was my 5th year of leading such classes and the classroom was packed with 35 or 40 folks who had signed up. In the midst of the chaos of organizing the group that evening, I scarcely noticed a shy woman who had seen her uncle complete the New York Marathon the previous November and was determined to become a marathoner herself. Only much later would I learn she had spent days shuffling her busy schedule as an oral surgery resident in order to have Tuesdays free.

The weeks passed and the class developed a special character. Folks got to know one another and many of them improved by leaps and bounds. Eventually I noticed that this woman who sat quietly in the front row rarely asked a question or spoke up about her own running. Occasionally I'd prod her for some information. She said she had been training, but her knee held her back from running long distances. I implored her to participate in a 20 mile training run from Hopkinton to Newton we had scheduled for three weeks before Boston. She was able to complete 18 miles of that run, and Mary Collins went on to finish Boston in four and a quarter hours on a hot April day. I was especially pleased for her. Although I hardly knew her, there was a feeling of sincerity about her that was impossible to miss. At the victory celebration we held the following evening, she presented me with a personal gift. I was genuinely moved. I reciprocated with a spare race T-shirt I had managed to procure. I also decided to make every effort to keep her running with our Back Bay Road Runners club.

Throughout the remainder of 1993, Mary did indeed keep running, although an unyielding work schedule often prevented her from taking part in many of our runs and races. One rainy Tuesday evening, I set out on the club run with a fellow who was training for the New York Marathon. We had a nice pace going, about 7:30 per mile. I looked behind us at one point, and there was Mary, quietly following a few yards off the pace. I was shocked to see how fast she was moving along. She had decided to go back to New York in 1993, to run the marathon this time. I mentioned I was going to the Cape Cod Marathon three weeks before New York to see the race and do a 20 mile training run. She decided to come along to do the same. I ran my 20 and made my way back to the finish line. All of a sudden, Mary appeared in view, running towards the finish. She had decided to run the entire way, and crossed the line in 3:43, thus qualifying for the next year's Boston. Her marathoning days were off to a flying start.

Mary's brutal on-call work schedule and troublesome knee prevented her from really ever doing proper marathon training. It's a testimony to her natural talent that she's been able to run so well off of 20 to 30 mile weeks. In the spring of 1995 she put in a fair number of long runs and races and completed Boston in 3:38:23, her PR. There have been many other memorable runs and races we've done together. The 1994 Marine Corps Marathon comes to mind, when we ran in a driving rainstorm the entire way. The '94 Soapstone Mountain trail race is another. 13 miles of rocky, rooty, hilly trails under a blazing hot sun left Mary so pale and tired at the end she could barely stand up. The Tufts 10K was also one of her favorites. As a women's only race in Boston, she loved the event and always gave it her best. She managed her PR of 42:46 in Tufts last year. In 1993 we drove up to Mt. Washington on a beautiful September Sunday. Arriving at the AMC lodge at about 2 p.m., we only planned to hike a bit on the trail and look at the views up top. Once we got going, we realized we could hike Tuckerman's trail all the way up. We arrived at the summit at about 4:30 and stopped for a rest. By this time almost no one was left up there, having long since finished hiking for the day. We made our way down quickly, actually running the last 1/2 hour as darkness fell. By the time we were back in the car at the lodge, it was past 7:30 p.m. and completely pitch black. We laughed at our dumb luck and drove straight through to Boston, arriving back in town at 11 o'clock.

Although running is how we have come to know Mary, it is really only a small part of what she is all about. Everyone who was has crossed paths with Mary knows that she is the most caring and thoughtful of individuals, one who treats everyone with equanimity. I've been able to learn a great deal from Mary simply by watching her interact with others. She always makes a huge effort to inquire about the interests of those she meets. She does all of the little things that sometimes go unnoticed, but add up over time. I often wish I could see the reaction on the faces of the hundreds of people to whom she sent thank you notes after a party or gathering. She never went anywhere without bearing gifts. One time on our way to a cookout, she made us stop for some soft drinks, even though I knew there would already be plenty on hand. She reappeared with several heavy bags full of soda, which we had to lug with us over a mile uphill from the T station to the party. She wouldn't have had it any other way.

Life is fully of funny twists and turns. To use a running metaphor, it is a long road, and you never know what lies up over the next hill. Only through a quirk of fate did I get to meet Mary Collins, but her impact on my life has been immeasurable. I'm sure there are many more of her American friends and fellow workers who would say the same. We all can only wish her the best of luck a future success as she heads back across the ocean to her hometown of Dun Laoghlaire, county Dublin. We will miss her greatly, but will never forget the love and happiness she brought into our lives. And if we're lucky, someday we'll see her running towards us in the distance, up and over the other side of that hill.



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