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Mary Louise Stearns Williams ’51

December 21, 2021, in Windsor, California.

Mary Louise was born in Pasadena, California, with an abiding love of animals. Her childhood was filled with cats, springer spaniels, a goose named Caesar Agoosetus, and a rotation of Arabian horses. She graduated from Chadwick School in Palos Verdes before coming to Reed, the alma mater of her sister, Ann Whitehead ’44, and later her brother, John Stearns ’53. She studied Russian literature and enjoyed skiing, square dancing, standing up for her ideals, breaking the rules, and singing. While at Reed, Mary Lou met and fell in love with Bill Williams, who was visiting from the University of Colorado.

Mary Lou moved to San Francisco, and then her mother lured her back to Pasadena with the promise of horses. Bill had moved to Los Angeles to work as an engineer in the aerospace industry, and, capitalizing on Mary Lou’s move south, he began courting her in earnest. They married in 1956, spent 40 years together in Palos Verdes, and raised four children.

In addition to being a wife, mother, and grandmother, Mary Lou nurtured a series of reptiles, two turtles, a handful of skinks, tarantulas, king snakes, a scorpion, a baby rattlesnake named Cuddles, dozens of alligator lizards, a rosy boa, and a six-foot-long Burmese python. She once brought home a pony, procured at an auction, in a VW bus. Her hobbies were dog grooming, whelping, stud service, competing in dog and horse events, carriage driving, Schutzhund, and rescuing. Hardly a day went by when she wasn’t involved in saving some kind of animal or houseplant that someone had placed on the curb. When her children left home, she turned to birds. One whole room of the house was occupied by finches.

She didn’t suffer fools, and a favorite reference was to someone’s “room temperature IQ.” Mary Lou was a skilled pianist, guitar player, and soprano. She worked as a Thumb Taxi driver and was an early adopter of organic food delivery and yoga. When her husband died, she moved to Norco, California, and amassed a menagerie of dogs, cats, chickens, burros, donkeys, horses, geese, ducks, goats, llamas, and one steer. For her 70th birthday and recently widowed, she gifted herself with riding a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. When she was in her 80s, Mary Lou visited Reed with her daughter, Susie, and reminisced about canoeing on the Willamette, late night talks with Gary Snyder ’51, and her close friendship with Prof. Stanley Moore [philosophy 1948–54].

At the age of 88, she took her first trip to Europe with Corona’s Circle City Chorale to sing in their Eastern European performance tour. One day in her 90s, she peered at the giant rock on the hill behind her house, known as Pumpkin Rock, and decided to hike to it the next day. She made the 1.7-mile trek up the mountain with her grandchildren carrying a chair on which she could rest. Mary Lou loved sitting on the front porch watching the world go by. She leaves behind four children: Laurie Smith, Sandra Phenning, Russell Williams, and Susie Hoffman.

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2022

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