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Mary Piper Leber ’50

January 4, 2019, in Mercer Island, Washington.

Born to John and Marian Piper, Mary was raised on Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill and graduated from Queen Anne High School. She chose Reed because one of her best friends was going here.

“I was not what you would call a star at Reed,” she recalled. “My background in high school was science and math, and the humanities hit me like a ton of bricks. I had a real tough time with it.”

Mary had planned to major in math, but in her junior year, she began having trouble within the discipline.

“A whole new concept of math had come along about that time and I never really got it,” she said. “Prof. Lloyd Williams [math 1947–81] kindly gave me a D, because he didn’t want to flunk me and I needed the credit. I knew I had to change my major, and the easiest way to stay at Reed was to go into the education department.”

One of Mary’s favorite professors was Prof. Dorothy Johansen ’33 [history 1934–84].

“Dorothy Jo was absolutely fabulous,” Mary remembered. “I loved her American history class so much. She knew all these true stories about all these characters in the West. She had a way of teaching that was just marvelous, because she would give you a book list—and she knew books that weren’t boring—and you could pick out anything you wanted to read, and then she would lecture.”

Though Mary majored in education, she basically wrote a history thesis, “A History of the Denominational Academies of Portland in the Nineteenth Century,” about private education in Portland.

“The most important thing about the whole thing was the process,” Mary remembered. “I didn’t quite get it at first. I had all this information. I came into Dorothy Jo’s thesis conference and she said, ‘Well, Mary Jean, this is wonderful. You’ve done marvelous research. There’s only one problem—you haven’t got a thesis. What are you trying to prove?’”

Many years later, after raising four children, Mary got into a  master of arts in values program at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. It was then she realized, “My Reed College education was superb. I had this point of view that you get from Reed that you look at all different sides of the thing.”

During her sophomore year at Reed, Mary began dating Lewis Leber ’50. When he was given his orders to go to Korea, they were married in a small ceremony on October 2, 1951. Mary became an elementary school teacher and taught for two years in Portland and Seattle. Mary gave birth to their first child, Janet, in 1954 and quit teaching. The Lebers built a home on Mercer Island, Washington, where they lived for more than 60 years, raising their daughter and three sons. 

She had enormous energy and along with raising a family, she volunteered and became a political activist. Mary was involved with the first King County farmlands preservation ballot issue and ran several political campaigns. She worked for the Church Council of Greater Seattle and was a longtime member of the Seattle Arboretum Club. In her late 40s, she studied for a master’s degree at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

“They don’t teach you this, but somehow you come out of Reed wanting to give back somehow or other,” she reflected.  “Maybe not everybody does that, but I think that’s something that comes from the way you learn, but they don’t talk about it or make a big deal out of it.”

Mary approached all endeavors with zeal, had a creative flair, and had an incredible eye for detail. Her garden drew the admiration of neighbors and dog walkers. Originally, she wanted to hire a landscape designer to create a Japanese-style garden, but concluded her own style was better. When she could no longer garden, she produced meticulous and beautiful needlepoints.

After Lewis sold the family business in 1985, the couple purchased an RV and traveled to nearly every state in the union.

Mary is survived by her daughter, Janet, and her sons, Brock, Todd, and Matthew.

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2019

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