Mary Tucker, lifelong civil rights activist and grandmother to many, passed away on March 14, 2021, just days before her 103rd birthday on March 18.
Her family, friends, and those who knew her (the list is long) will remember her for her cool sophistication, her love of tennis, and her famous lobster rolls at Grace Church.
Gretchen Tucker Underwood, Mary’s daughter, recounted to The Times the story of how the Grace Church lobster roll sale — a brainchild of Mary and her late husband, Judge Herbert E. Tucker Jr. — bloomed into one of the most popular Island events.
“It was always on Friday night, make the lobster rolls and sell them — now it has turned into the major fundraiser for the Grace Church,” Tucker Underwood said.
Mary was heavily involved with the religious and civil rights community on-Island. When the Rev. John Melville Burgess became the 12th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, making him the first African American diocesan bishop of the church in the U.S., it was Mary who worked to have two stained glass windows crafted and put up in Grace Church commemorating Burgess and his work.
Mary was also known for her tennis invitational, which she held every year for close to 40 years.
“That brought generations of tennis players from around the world,” Tucker Underwood said.
The tournament was mixed doubles, except partners were assigned, not chosen. This way, Tucker Underwood said, the matches were enjoyable and balanced.
“You could be a social professional, and instead of getting paired with another experienced player, you get paired with a 10-year-old — it made for fun tennis, that’s for sure,” Tucker Underwood said. “That group grew and grew, and it eventually became a real family for those people, a tennis family.”
Even before holding her own tennis invitational, Mary had been a talented athlete throughout her life. She was a four-sport, varsity athlete in high school, but her main sport was always tennis. And, according to Tucker Underwood, she carried that love with her forever.
“Toward the end of her years hosting the tournament, she wasn’t able to play anymore, but she never let go of it until she absolutely had to,” Tucker Underwood said. “She never missed a match, and when she couldn’t play, she would sit and watch.”
Mary was also a registered nurse, and according to Tucker Underwood, she carried those attributes of stalwart compassion with her into all her relationships. “She was caring, she was a good listener, and tolerant of all kinds of things. She would always tell me, ‘Be patient, be loving,’” Tucker Underwood said.
Mary was consistently compassionate, and would often serve as an intermediary between her husband, who was oftentimes a strict disciplinarian, and her children and grandchildren.
“My parents loved our family very much, they were married for over 70 years before my father passed. I don’t think anybody saw my mother angry,” Tucker Underwood said.
One of the things Tucker Underwood said her mother was always proud of was the fact that her children were college-educated, making them the third generation of college-educated family members.
“My mothers’ parents, both of them, were children of slaves. The fact that they were college-educated, and she was college-educated, and my sister and I were educated, she was always so proud,” Tucker Underwood said. “She knew we would always carry that on.”
One quality Tucker Underwood said she will always remember about her mother was her imperturbable nature, even toward the end of her life.
“When my mother was in the hospital during her last weeks, it was getting very close to her 103rd birthday. She said to me, ‘If anything happens to me, you make sure you tell them I’m 103,’” Tucker Underwood said. “She was in good humor till the very last day.”
Gretchen Mercer, Mary’s granddaughter, said she never saw her flustered, angry, or uncalm.
“She was definitely unflappable,” Mercer said.
Mercer said her late grandfather, Herbert, was a “huge grizzly bear on the outside, but an absolute teddy bear on the inside,” and Mary would often “run interference” for any kids in the family who were in trouble with him.
“My grandparents were completely head over heels for each other,” Mercer said. “When they kissed, it was like they were kissing for the first time.”
Even with such a large family, Mercer said, Mary served as a maternal figure to multiple generations, and “everyone called her grandmother, or mamama, because she was a mother three times over, to three generations.”
As Mary grew older, she continued to care for her friends, often visiting them in nursing homes or at their houses. “She always looked after her girlfriends, that’s just what she did, because her best friends’ children were practically her nieces and nephews,” Mercer said.
Mercer said she received a call from her grandmother the week she died, saying goodbye and telling her how much she loves her.
“Her life was long, wide, and deep. She made a difference in the world while here,” Mercer said. “My only regret is I didn’t get to hug her one more time. I am sad, no doubt, for missing that hug, but not grieving her passing. I know she’s happy — already playing bridge with the girls, telling [her husband] Herbie to freshen her cocktail, laughing up a storm, and hugging [her daughter] Gwen and her sisters.”