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Mary Teal Garland ’49

September 11, 2018, in Hancock, New Hampshire, on her way to vote.

The last steps Mary took in life were towards the voting booth. Nothing could have been more appropriate, because throughout her 90 years, she modeled what it meant to be an active citizen.

She grew up in a rarefied world of movers and shakers in Greenwich, Connecticut, and attended her mother’s school, Mrs. Teal’s Classes, housed in the family’s Belle Haven home. After studying at Greenwich Academy and Smith College, she attended Reed for postgraduate study in dance. An early love of dance and theatre led Mary to study with such dance greats as Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham. But after meeting Peter Garland, she abandoned her pursuit of dance. The couple knew each other for only three days before they married and moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Peter finished his graduate work at Harvard Graduate School of Design and Mary ran the interiors department of the Architects Collaborative under Walter Gropius, which transitioned to Design Research with Ben Thompson.

A two-year Fulbright scholarship took Peter and Mary to Italy, where Peter worked for renowned architect Gio Ponti and Mary established a network of Scandinavian and Italian furniture designers and manufacturers for Design Research. While they were in Italy, Peter contracted tuberculosis, forcing them to return to the United States for his recovery. For the next two years, Mary joined Peter in the Wallingford, Connecticut, Sanatorium with what she referred to as her “sympathetic” case of TB. Together they ran the craft school and newspaper while they planned the rest of their lives. Emerging from the sanatorium with a doctor’s advisory to live a quiet life, they retired to the countryside in Hancock, New Hampshire. But life was anything but retiring or quiet. In 1956, they welcomed the first of what would be five children born in five years.

This period marked the beginning of Mary’s lifelong commitment to and involvement with her community. Over the next 62 years, Mary served on committees and boards, including the Monadnock Community Foundation, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, ITHAKA, the Hancock School Board, the Contoocook Valley School Board, the Harris Center, and the MacDowell Colony. She was a Hancock Library trustee and treasurer, and a volunteer, organizer, and canvasser with the New Hampshire Democratic Party. Her energy was critical to the founding of the Well School, the Peterborough Indoor Tennis Courts, and Monadnock Music. She was honored in 2017 as Grand Marshal of Hancock’s Old Home Day, and the organizers noted: “Besides her tall and elegant stature, her warm and huge heart, together with her wisdom, have led her to give of herself in ways that go above and beyond time and again. She quietly models for us all what it is to be a citizen—informed, active, and kind beyond words, dedicated and committed to our town and world.”

Mary’s sense of community went beyond the structured service of boards and committees. If a friend or townsperson had a loss or experienced difficulties, it was not unusual for them to find a care package on their doorstep or know that Mary was by their side to help. When there was a particular issue that she felt strongly about, she wrote letters, collected signatures, lent her time, her voice, and her passion.

Even so, she found time for adventure. In 1969, Mary and Peter took a year’s sabbatical with their five children, camping across Europe and living in Istanbul, Turkey. In Turkey, Mary worked as a volunteer with displaced women, helping them develop products to be sold in tourist markets by adapting traditional designs to modern materials. When she returned from Turkey, she set up an interior design business with Carol Gebhardt, designing interiors and furniture for a range of private and commercial projects, including designing truck stops along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. In the 1980s, after 32 years of marriage and following her husband’s death, Mary refocused her energies on craft design and went to work at Aid to Artisans in collaboration with Save the Children. Working in remote villages—often with refugees in the Middle East, the South Pacific, Asia, and Africa—she helped craftspeople design products to expand their markets. She kept her design skills sharpened with a steady flow of continuing educational courses at the Sharon Arts Center, Eastern Connecticut State College, Haystack Mountain, the New England School of Art, the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and needlework workshops with Erica Wilson and Elsa Williams.

In her final years, Mary turned her attention to the social and political well-being of her nation. She spent quiet hours writing letters, exercising her rights and what she considered her responsibility as a citizen. She lived her life with enormous joy, humor, thoughtfulness, and gratitude. The sound of a Viennese waltz sent her twirling into the arms of whoever was nearby. Beautiful days rarely passed without a hike or picnic. She sang with her children on road trips, donned elegant costumes for croquet matches and scary ones for Halloween, and connected people with her delectable dinners and spontaneous dances.

Mary is survived by her children: Tara Garland-Dalton, Aaron Garland, Brahma (né Daniel) Garland, Natasha Garland, and Sarah Garland-Hoch.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2018

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