Sunday, June 26, 2016


Mary Dawn and her sister, Ruth, visiting me following our concurrent
knee replacement surgeries. One cannot underestimate the devoted assistance
given by Ruth to her sister, but in particular during this past year.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Mary Dawn Gunnerson.

We'll miss her.

Mary passed away on June 17, and as noted in her newspaper obituary it was Icelandic Independence Day, fitting for someone of such independent character, one who sailed by her own inner compass.

A frequent caller on the telephone at unexpected times, Mary often informed us about Island happenings that we, in our Detroit Harbor isolation, hadn't yet heard.  We were among, perhaps, dozens of friends whose phone numbers were close at hand for Mary to call.  Her list of friends included then Door County Sheriff, Terry Vogel, and other law enforcement officers.  Mary shared the latest emergency news regularly gleaned from radio conversations on her scanner.

Birthdays, anniversaries, dates of deaths for close family members...these were cataloged by Mary and commemorated with either a phone call or a card in the mail.

Mary on board the ferry Washington 
in 1992.

For years, Mary was a regular visitor to the Ferry Dock for freight, picking up packages for her family's neighboring Kaupstadur gift shop, where she could be found working most days during the tourism season.  She could dish it out to the crew as well as they could give good-natured jibes.

My first encounter with Mary came in the bike rental garage in 1975.   Mary had either swerved to avoid a bicyclist, or she was driving too fast along the Ppoint road (or both).  The result was that Mary drove her father's, Roger's, panel truck (similar to the type used by the milk delivery man, with the stand-up driver's seat) into the woods.  She provided proof of her resulting injury as she told her story by pulling her pants down far enough to show me the ugly bruise on the side of her thigh.  (I'm not sure why she did that, but I never forgot seeing the large bruise!)

Despite health setbacks that didn't allow Mary leave home this past year except for medical appointments, her voice remained upbeat over the phone.  It was the the voice one might expect from someone who was perfectly healthy.   Her optimistic attitude was an admirable trait, and it surely helped her to cope with her life as physical abilities declined.

It happened coincidentally that in December of 2014, Mary and I scheduled knee replacement surgeries on the same morning - but at different Green Bay hospitals.   We looked forward to meeting up afterward at the rehabilitation facility in DePere, where both of us would stay for several weeks of therapy.  Our residency there didn't work out quite as smoothly as planned, for either one of us, but we often greeted one another as we shuffled behind our walkers to or from the therapy room.  One morning we even shared one of the large platforms used for exercising knee joints, groaning between our exchanges of brief pleasantries.  

Mary laced her optimism with choice comments about the food, the Packers, or whether or not she would be released in time for Christmas.  (Unfortunately she was not home for Christmas.)

In the future, when our family thinks back on beloved characters whom we knew, Mary's name will start our conversation.

-  Dick Purinton