By Peg Simpson, JAWS member
I met Mary Thom in 1988 when I opened a Washington bureau for MS Magazine and its new owners, Australians Anne Summers and Sandra Yates.
Mary had stayed on from the original MS startup editing team and she scared me to death. She was a larger than life presence.
I had not even free-lanced for MS and here I was, working with one of the women present at the creation.
I did think I knew everything about the women’s political movement, having covered it since 1971 for the AP and then as a Washington correspondent for Working Woman magazine.
I realized, early on, that Mary knew a lot more. She didn’t lord that over me. She shared her incredible depth of knowledge.
She proved easy to brainstorm with and very user-friendly to work with.
This was the case, nearly two decades later, when Mary was my editor as I began to report from Washington for the Women’s Media Center, soon after she went there in 2006.
The WMC founders, in their tribute to Mary, got it right when they said she had an incredible ability to let a writer’s voice shine through.
But there is a lot more to this.
As a veteran AP reporter, I was uncomfortable to some extent with the very idea of having a “voice” – this being well before the era of blogs.
But a “voice” wasn’t all that Mary wanted.
She also wanted ahead-of-the-curve news stories or “explainers” that put lots of bits and pieces of news into a coherent context.
And, her personal views aside, she was not an idealogue. She was a terrific news person. This was true even when the news wasn’t necessarily to her liking. She wanted to know why this was happening, to know what would happen next.
You could talk shorthand with her and she usually could finish my sentences if we were talking through a story. She could fill in the blanks when I was stuck.
I don’t remember her ever raising her voice in irritation – even when I was hours late, still thrashing over the way to say something, even when it was 1 a.m. and she, too, wanted to get to bed.
Through JAWS, I got to know Mary’s sister Susan Loube and then Susan’s son Thom.
And I realized she also liked to play, that she cherished family, that she knew how to do down time. That’s too often a rarity.
When she and Susan came to Washington to see Susan’s son Thom and his wife Mariko (and then her grand-niece Kumi), Mary and Susan would rent bikes and head down to the Mall for a couple of museum exhibits, then get a Metro back home. And sometimes she’d round me up to go see Thom playing the guitar at a house salon.
The WMC top team said Mary had been such a visionary, such a force in contemporary feminism, that they’ll always be asking themselves What would Mary do?
For me, I keep seeing good stories and instinctively think I need to call Mary and ask: “What do you think about this? What do you want on this?”
Former JAWS Board Member Peg Simpson is a freelance writer for the Women’s Media Center and a promoter of the Aging in Place movement.