R.I.P., Mary Pigeon

Heather, Beth, Mary, and Shannon in 2004.

Herself the Elder, a.k.a. Mary Gaye (Kerr) Pigeon, went west on Thursday in Albuquerque. She was 89.

Born in 1933 on a farm in East Texas, the youngest of 10 children, Mary raised three girls of her own and spent a quarter-century working for Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Her father, B Kerr, was a sharecropper. Her mother, Mary M. Kerr, was a homemaker.

Mary attended schools in Nacogdoches and Abilene, graduating from Abilene High School in 1951. Afterward she studied at Massey Business College in Nacogdoches.

In 1958 she married Robert Pigeon of Ontonagon, Mich.

Their first child, Beth, was born in 1960 in College Station, Texas. Shannon (Herself) was born a year later in Nacogdoches. And Heather was born in Frederick, Md., in 1962, after the family moved east so Robert could take a position with the Atomic Energy Commission.

With all three children in school, Mary went to work. In Frederick, she took a job with the First Baptist Church. When the family relocated to Oak Ridge in 1980, Mary signed on with the First Presbyterian Church.

Two years later, the couple divorced. Her ex eventually remarried, but Mary never did.

In 1992, Mary began working at ORAU, in a temporary position. It proved anything but. By the time she retired 23 years later — at the age of 82 — she was the executive assistant to a vice president in health communication. Mary loved that job and was proud of her accomplishments at ORAU.

Armed with quick wit and sharp tongue, Mary did not suffer fools gladly. But she had a lighter touch with animals, particularly cats, and supported the Helping Paws Animal Network of Oak Ridge.

She devoured mysteries on her Kindle, especially Susan Wittig Albert stories. Other pastimes included crossword puzzles, dining out, shopping, spending time with family and her wide circle of friends, and binge-watching episodes of “The Big Bang Theory.”

Beth, Mary and Shannon share a giggle in The Duck! City circa July 2021.

In her later years Mary wanted to be closer to her daughters, moving first to an apartment in Palm Bay, Fla., near Beth, and then to assisted living in Albuquerque, near Shannon.

She arrived in The Duck! City just as the novel coronavirus began triggering lockdowns in elder-care facilities, and endured quarantines in tiny rooms, conversations with loved ones through closed windows and/or over the phone, vaccinations, and masking, all piled atop the traditional indignities of advancing old age.

In her final year, with restrictions lifting, Mary was able to rejoin the wider world, enjoying in-person visits with family and friends, getting her hair and nails done, shopping, and going out for meals.

Shortly after her 89th birthday, COVID finally found her. It did not keep her long.

Survivors include Beth and Darren Morgan of Woodsboro, Md.; Shannon and Patrick O’Grady of Albuquerque; and Heather and Bill White of Smyrna, Tenn.; two grandchildren and five great-grandchildren; and several nieces and nephews.

No services are planned. Come spring, Mary will return to East Texas, where memory took her in her final days.


28 Responses to “R.I.P., Mary Pigeon”

  1. Pat O’Brien Says:

    We are sorry to hear that news. Passing, or returning, always brings me back to chapter 16 in the Tao te Ching. Perhaps it will give you two some comfort. Peace mi amigos.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Thanks, Hoss. We appreciate it. The old gal had a rough ride in her final few years, with the moves and the falls and The Bug. But she hung on through it all, until she finally caught the goddamn thing. Even then she put up a fight; she just wasn’t strong enough to win.

      The diagnosis came while Herself was in Maryland visiting Beth, so I went over to check on the old gal, because the staff said she was hallucinating, something about seeing children in the room.

      Based on what I heard from her I think she may have been revisiting her birth at home in East Texas. I’m not 100 percent sure of the family legend, but I think the siblings who were still living at home were sent away from the house during the birth and then brought back to meet the latest addition to the family.

      So that’s kinda cool, eh? The Door swings both ways.

  2. SAO' Says:

    Sorry for your loss. Wonderful tribute, and she obviously lived a life that touched many. Please let us know if there’s anything we can do.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Gracias, señor. This is a family of strength, women who met adversity face to face and came away stronger for it.

      Mary was born on a farm; married, divorced and suffered; then worked her way up into a pro gig at ORAU, with good pay and much respect. Beth, Shannon and Heather likewise reinvented themselves later in life, when a lot of us might have shrugged and said, “Well, I guess this is me now,” and settled for the wet end of the mop.

      There ain’t any quit in ’em. Just days before Herself the Elder died she and I were marching around her assisted-living place, passing out homemade brownies that a friend had sent her. I was going to just set the box on her nightstand but she wasn’t having any of that. So off we went. Duty called, don’t you know. (Also, she liked to show off.)

  3. khal spencer Says:

    Condolences from us to you, Shannon, Heather, Beth, and families. These things are inevitable, but never easy.

    My old man is still weak, recovering from that pneumonia that left him in the hospital for a week and then in rehab. Fortunately, my kid brother Steve and his son Nick were on hand to clear out the four or five feet of snow yesterday that had the old man trapped in his house.

  4. Herb from Michigan Says:

    Condolences for you both. From what I read in your accounts over the years, it sounds like I would have killed to sit in and listen to Mary and my late Mom swap stories from their historic lives over a little Rose wine. All that they did and saw over time makes us look like pogues.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Thanks, Herb ol’ scout. And yup, we think we’ve seen some changes in our tours of duty. Think about what our folks experienced. My dad was born in 1918, my mom in ’24. And yet I wondered why they were tight with a buck.

  5. Opus the Poet Says:

    Small world, I lived in Smyrna 1982-5. Don’t know if I met your in-laws though.

  6. Shawn Says:

    My thoughts are for you both. Your memorial I believe honors her well. Thank you for including it here. She sounds like a very impressive individual. As you mention about hallucinations, I hope that her last days were peaceful for her.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      It seemed a quick, peaceful journey to The Other Side, and I think she knew she had bought the ticket and was about to take the ride.

      Her mobility had been greatly reduced by a variety of physical ailments, and her mind was not as sharp as it once was, but she stayed as long as she was able. COVID just proved too much for her. It was the final straw.

  7. Michael Porter Says:

    Shannon & Patrick,

    What a wonderful eulogy for Mary. Can you please write mine? Please know that Michele & I are saddened here of Mary’s passing. You always spoke/wrote highly of her. I’m sure right now she is looking upon Shannon and her two sisters with a Heart filled with love and pride and a BIG smile on her face for the wonderful people each of them has become and the fact they all selflessly made the time to visit wherever Mary was including her latest residence in the Duck City

    Lots of warm hugs and love coming your way from Oregon

    Michael & Michele

  8. John A Levy Says:

    My condolences to Herself, A good person that will be much missed by her family and friends. Take care of each other.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Thanks, John. Herself and her sisters are taking care of business, which diverts the mind. Spoke with the funeral home and cemetery, arranged for a stone, shopped for an urn, busy busy busy. It’s been 27 years since we buried my mom and I’d forgotten how much there is to do.

  9. DownhillBill Says:

    Condolences to all… Life is like a roller coaster, once you’re on, you’re on ‘til the end of the ride, so you might as well stick your hands in the air, scream, and enjoy the ride. Sounds as though Mary had a good one. I’m sorry I didn’t actually know her, except at blog’s length.

    My own mother said that pneumonia was traditionally known as “the friend of the sick”. As with a surprising number of other things, I’ve found that my parents actually knew more than I gave them credit for back in the day. I’m sure y’all’s attention and love must have been a great comfort to Mary.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Nobody gets out alive, amirite? I was just looking through some texts with Herself the Elder from The Before-Time. I’d gotten used to her halting speech and cognitive decline these past few years and it was good to be reminded that she wasn’t always that way.

      It was a good long time before I could think of my father as anything but an ICU patient barreling toward the grave or my mom as a zombie. Those last memories are like a retina burn. You need time to heal before your clarity of vision returns.

  10. Wideload Says:

    Thank you. You did her proud. Sure wish I had your way with words. Gave my mom’s eulogy 2 weeks ago. Took me 22 minutes to say she was swell and I’ll miss her

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Thank you. And well done, delivering the eulogy for your mom. Anybody can write stuff down in the shadows, but it takes huevos to speak the words in public.

      • Wideload Says:

        I googled writing and delivering a good eulogy. The first piece of advice was to keep it brief, under five minutes. Didn’t bother looking at the rest with that lame start. My little brother says, Plato is credited with saying that a wise man speaks when he has something to say and a fool when he has to say something; here’s my brother. 65 years he waits and takes down the patron in front of everyone left where we grew up, or at least got older.
        Afterward, many said they were anticipating retaliation. I chose to rise above it and not respond, says I. Couldn’t think of anything in 22 minutes could you said they? Busted. Still can’t. Hoping to give live enough to use it myself.

  11. clydethepointer Says:

    Jill’s mom passed 10.24 so this is all too fresh. Love to you and Shannon. Catch up later. Still workin’ and need more saddle time, that fixes anything, right?

  12. clydethepointer Says:

    Jill’s mom passed 10.24 so this is all too familiar. Love to you and Shannon. Thanks for all your words/thoughts/wisdom over the years. I’m still workin’ and riding but not enough. We’ll catch up soon.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Hey, Skeezix, thanks for your thoughts, and our best to you and Jill. We know they’re gonna go, but somehow the actual departure always comes as a surprise.

      We planted the old man in 1980 and the mom in ’95 so I’m a bit out of practice when it comes to getting the train out of the station, but sister Beth came out to lend a hand and between the two gals things are getting done. Many, many of them.

      Looking forward to hearing about your latest adventures.

  13. Guy Bombardier Says:

    Sorry for your loss! The woman lived a great life!

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