Mary Margaret Farabee, who passed away on March 3, 2013, personified the spirit and significance of civic involvement. Although she held a number of professional positions at such organizations as the Texas State Historical Association, Seton Hospital, the Texas Senate, and KLRU-TV, her greatest impact on the city of Austin and our state was as the consummate volunteer. Mary Margaret's active leadership in many educational, cultural, and historic preservation endeavors during a span of thirty years changed the face of Austin. She served on the boards of The University of Texas Press, the Harry Ransom Center, the People's Community Clinic, the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the Huston-Tillotson University Leadership Program, and the Austin Community Foundation. After working with then-Texas First Lady Laura Bush to establish the Texas Book Festival, Mary Margaret chaired its board for eight years. She and her husband, former State Senator Ray Farabee, were instrumental in restoring the Paramount Theater, and they generously supported the restoration of Humanities Texas's historic Byrne-Reed House. All of us at Humanities Texas will miss her.
M. L. G.
Mary Margaret Farabee's memorial service on March 18, 2013, at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center included the following eloquent tributes:
Ray asked if I would speak to you today about Mary Margaret with a focus on her life of service as a community volunteer. Of course, I was honored but more than a little intimidated as he THEN asked if I would do that in 5 minutes! Now THAT was a challenge.
Because, as you all know, a mere recitation of all the many organizations, boards, committees, and special projects that Mary Margaret contributed to, over several decades, would take up most of my allotted time.
So I decided, instead, to talk about some of the unique qualities that Mary Margaret brought to ALL her endeavors—no matter the "cause du jour."
Over the last several weeks, I took the opportunity to talk with many of you and reminisce about our experiences working with Mary Margaret. And the preeminent quality that was mentioned most often by all of you, right up front, was Mary Margaret’s remarkable ability to CONNECT people.
And I just have to share some of these conversations because it was particularly amusing to hear all the creative metaphors you employed to describe her.
We can all relate to that one. Vivid images, all the same idea.
In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell spoke to this phenomenon, which he called "The Law of the Few," whereby he states that the success of any given venture is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts. He identifies three types:
And then, there are the CONNECTORS like Mary Margaret—special people in the community who know large numbers of other people and are in the habit of making introductions. They usually know people across a wide array of social, cultural, professional, and economic circles, and their ability to span many different worlds is a function of something intrinsic to their personality—some combination of CURIOSITY, SELF-CONFIDENCE, SOCIABILITY, and ENERGY.
By that description, and by your own testimony, Mary Margaret Farabee was a quintessential CONNECTOR!
If Mary Margaret was involved, all systems were GO because Mary Margaret brought not only her own considerable talents to the table but her entire Rolodex of human resources, virtually guaranteeing success.
She reminded me of that popular theory that there are only "six degrees of separation" between every other person in the world. But it seems to me that in Austin, and especially in the world of volunteers and nonprofits, there was really only ONE degree of separation—and that ubiquitous link was Mary Margaret.
Another notable quality that Mary Margaret possessed was a seemingly inexhaustible supply of ENERGY and OPTIMISM. She brought an unflagging ENTHUSIASM to each and every venture, which inspired and motivated all who worked with her.
I took to calling her the "Energizer Bunny," but heck, even the damn bunny had an OFF switch! But not our Mary Margaret.
Needless to say, some friends reported a sense of trepidation when they would see Mary Margaret approaching with her latest earnest proposal for yet another oh-so-worthy cause! You knew you would be helpless to say NO to Mary Margaret, but you would also be assured that you would never regret having said YES.
I was lucky to have served with Mary Margaret on several boards (the Austin Community Foundation and the People's Community Clinic) and countless committees over the years. Invariably, Mary Margaret was the ENGINE on whatever train we were on together. She was always willing and able to do whatever was needed—no job was ever too big or too small.
She could ably chair a nonprofit Board of Directors and took her turn at the podium as chair of many a gala.
But she was just as likely, perhaps more so, to serve in less visible and glamorous ways—to roll up her sleeves and stuff envelopes or write thank you notes to donors, to refurbish the offices and organize the archives at the Texas Observer or simply run errands.
She didn’t require or seek the limelight for herself. Her satisfaction was derived from reaching a successful outcome for the organization:
Her contributions to Austin are truly IMMEASURABLE.
Even after her diagnosis, when lesser mortals would justifiably retire from public service, Mary Margaret remained actively engaged.
Her commuting time to Houston and that waiting room time at M. D. Anderson were all "perfect" opportunities to brainstorm logistics for that next luncheon for People's Community Clinic or make that call of introduction for you that only she could make.
My email inbox still bulges with missives from Mary Margaret—full of suggestions, reminders, and encouragement—even most recently, an offer to buy the stamps if it would push us to get those save-the-date cards out for an upcoming event she was still working on.
Her dedication to her commitments, to "see the job through" to completion, was undiminished even as her illness progressed.
Her selfless generosity of "time, talent, and treasure" is truly UNEQUALED.
Martin Luther King once spoke on the subject of service, and I know that Mary Margaret would agree with his message:
"Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love."
Mary Margaret had just such a heart and a soul generated by love. And I believe that her lasting legacy lives on through her extraordinary gift of CONNECTION—through those bonds the SHE forged with—and between—each of us.
Nona Niland is an Austin businesswoman and civic leader.
I had the opportunity to arrive a little early to mix with many of you Monday morning and I found out that you're a very mixed crowd. Yet there's a great deal of commonality among all of us. I think that the unifying factor is the double emotions in our minds and hearts right now. There's a gloomy sense of loss, which you described so well, but you know at the same time there's a spirit of how wonderful she was. This woman, there's nobody in here who hasn't had her touch their lives nine times, and you can take the hundreds that are here and put that into the thousands. I hope that every one of you had an opportunity to glance at the simple outline of a few of the things that this woman was involved with over the years, and it looks like there's a very strange mix if you want to go through it. Yet I would contend that there's a great unanimity running through all of these activities that reflect the way Mary Margaret saw the world. She had a vision of a better place. What she was living, what we were living, and ultimately where the whole planet was going—she had a vision of wholeness and unity and order and justice and laughter and life, and she would convey that in all these various activities. And you said so well, it's not just these activities in which she herself was involved, but when she had the opportunity to cause joy and hope by sharing that vision and to work together in support of that vision. Social justice is mentioned on the program and Mary Margaret was involved in social justice issues.
She was very concerned and always involved with racial struggles. She helped bring about the Molly Ivins Award for investigative journalism. She worried about the tremendous problems this country has had with race and injustice and believed that we could get out of that ultimately through education, education, education. Education would mean jobs, which would mean political equality, and she was part of that struggle reflected by her support of Huston Tillotson University, where she helped develop a program for leadership. Those are all related to the social justice issues, and she was interested in that, but I think her overall approach was very different.
It was wonderful that she always came back to her vision of how life ought to be lived and how people ought to live it together. She worked—whether it be music or art, culture, the wide range of areas in which she—that's a reflection of how we can make this world a better place. A lot of people talk. CEOs talk, senators talk, bishops talk, often saying nothing. Mary Margaret—I don't ever remember—I know some of you had the privilege to know her better than I do—but the vision that she had, she conveyed to the rest of us by her example. I think that's the point I want to stress—that leadership for a better world and for a more just society was the basis of the way she lived and the way she dealt with people. So each and every one of us today—we were blessed to have known her. This world is best because she was here. And if you really want to give something in her memory, take her example and generously give of your time to build a better world, generously give of your time and energy and your talent in order to create a more just society, and to be able to contribute that in her memory. If you do that, if we do that, she will be marvelously pleased. God bless her.
John McCarthy is former Bishop of Austin.
As you all know, one of Mary Margaret's great passions was cooking. That was how I first met her, as one of a group of O. Henry Middle School students she was bravely teaching out of her Tarrytown kitchen. Hard to believe that was back in the mid ‘70s. She didn't remember me from that cooking class, but I thought she and her monkey bread were just amazing.
Our paths crossed next at KLRU, where Mary Margaret was Queen of Development. She pulled together some green but enthusiastic twenty-somethings to form a group called the Young Associates. I had little experience in fundraising, but she made me and everyone involved feel so successful. We threw benefit concerts in the old ACL studios, with talent like Joe Ely and Delbert McClinton, edgy local poster artists doing graphics, and Chuy's serving up Mexican food, with those crazy Chuy's fish hanging everywhere. Those were good times. I'm not sure how much money we raised, but MM's energy was contagious, and she had us all hooked on supporting public television and the fun in fundraising. We were her disciples, indoctrinated in the importance of getting involved, making a difference, and connecting with great, like-minded people along the way.
Before long, Mary Margaret and I were fast friends. Not only a friend, MM was a mentor, model, and maternal influence. But ultimately, she was most like a sister to me. We were an unlikely pairing in some ways, at different places in life. She was single then, her children grown, but soon to meet the love of her life, a true Texas gentleman, lawyer, and politician, her match in both intellect and civic involvement. Ray Farabee was newly on the dating circuit and apparently much in demand. Hard to imagine, but MM was worried about the competition, not sure she would land her man. We had long, involved phone calls discussing dating strategies, and I'm sure glad they paid off.
MM, Eddie Safady, and I shared a treasured lunch tradition of almost twenty years. December holidays and each of our birthdays were faithfully celebrated—we called it our group therapy. At one of those lunches I announced that I was pregnant—unexpectedly—with my fourth child. I was also in the middle of a graduate program, doubting myself and my ability to make it all work. MM was surprised by my news, but her response was definitive. "Mary, of course you can!" In her mind, if it was important, you just did it. She was the consummate doer, saw possibilities everywhere, never stopped caring, creating, or moving forward. This was MM's way, even when life presented her great personal trials.
She never lost her keen sense of humor. You might remember after her heart surgery, she named her new heart valve Daisy, because it came from a cow. She even made up a song about it, to the tune of "Daisy, Daisy, I'm So in Love with You," guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Mary Margaret had an insatiable intellectual curiosity, but an equally strong interest in people. One of her greatest gifts was as a matchmaker, but she matched people with causes. You just couldn't say no to her. She identified and marshaled the unique abilities of her many talented friends and colleagues and made everyone feel that they were critical to a project's success. Whether the cause was a statue, a theater, or a book festival, with MM you were sure to meet interesting people and feel good about yourself in the process. She was never much concerned with the credit, just with getting the job done. This quality, I think, was a key to her quite remarkable philanthropic accomplishments.
A proud, devoted mother, Mary Margaret marveled at her daughter Patricia's "old soul" wisdom, her quiet confidence and strength. MM was a nurturer at her core, and this was expressed in her passions for people, creative arts, cooking, gardening. We were all the beneficiaries. The Farabee home has always been a popular, welcoming place to gather, where conversation is never dull, the cooking guaranteed to please, served up with wine and good humor. MM was in her element at her "salons," as she jokingly referred to them. Small, impromptu gatherings were frequent in these last few months, the conversations especially memorable. Rich stories, funny and heartfelt memories were shared, expressions of love and appreciation flowed freely. MM brought out the best in us.
Until summer before last, when MM received her diagnosis, she and I were doing Friday Pilates together. She might have had a few years on me, but I was the one trying to keep up. She was always current in literature, the arts, politics, with some colorful gossip thrown in. And how she enjoyed travel, to experience and learn from new people and places—well documented in photos—and then create that fantastic holiday collage card we all know and love. Mary Margaret played, thought, and lived young.
Finally, MM showed us what strength and courage look like, sharing her journey through cancer with a beautifully written series of powerful, very personal emails. She drew inspiration from various works of poetry, which she included in many of her messages. I'd like to share a few lines from one of those poems, by Bill Worrell, called "Friends and Angels."
As if there is a difference between the two—
Friends & Angels
They are always beside you
Watching over you
They share your fears and sadness
They rejoice with you when you rejoice
And their touch
Bring to you calm and peace
What a vast and uncharted wilderness
And how drab and dull life would be
Without Friends and Angels
MM is our friend and angel, with us always, in our hearts and in the fabric of our wonderful city.
Mary Yancy is a psychologist in private practice in Austin.
I met Mary Margaret, not surprisingly, through books. We had been neighbors in Barton Hills for a few years, but our paths hadn't crossed when she helped launch the Texas Book Festival. I had published a few books and one day received a phone call inviting me to the gala dinner to fill out a table purchased by some sponsors. I happily joined the group and was most impressed by the company, the readings and remarks by the featured authors, and especially by the excitement and enthusiasm surrounding the whole affair.
I soon came to realize this was characteristic of everything Mary Margaret did. She had an ability to throw herself into worthy causes and to bring others along—often people with no existing interest in the enterprise but who couldn't help being attracted by Mary Margaret's passion for it. Her causes were many, and some have become cultural landmarks around Austin: besides the Book Festival, the Paramount Theatre, the Philosophers' Rock statue at Barton Springs, the Charles Moore House and Foundation, the Umlauf Sculpture Garden. Hardly a day goes by when I don't pass one of these and remark what a fine place Austin is to live. Hardly a day will go by that I won't be grateful to Mary Margaret for helping to make them happen.
As we got to know each other better, we shared thoughts about books and reading and philosophy and life. She took a generous interest in my work, making sure I was included on the program at the Book Festival and several times hosting parties to help me launch new books.
The living room at the Farabee house became the closest thing to a literary salon I've ever been involved in. Mary Margaret seemed to know everyone in the city, and when she threw a party, people wanted to come—to see her and Ray and discover what she was up to, even if they knew nothing about me or my new book.
The brunches she and Ray hosted on the Sunday mornings of the Book Festival weekend were a fixture on the literary circuit. Mary Margaret understood public relations and figured out that she could get publishers to pay to send authors to Austin if the Book Festival showed the authors a good time. She made sure it did, and much of the fun took place at the corner of Barton Skyway and Rockingham Drive.
As neighbors and friends we started to walk together. Sometimes we'd drive to the lake and walk along the trail there. Mostly we'd walk around the neighborhood. We would discuss books and politics and mutual friends. As she became ill, she insisted that the walks continue. On her good days we would go a couple of miles; on days when she wasn't feeling well we'd take it slower and shorter. Sometimes we'd sit down on the curb and catch our breath, reflecting that for all the wonderful views that come from living at the highest point in Barton Hills, the last stretch home was always uphill.
I learned a great deal about literature and art from Mary Margaret. But I learned even more about life: about courage and good humor in the face of adversity, about devotion to family and friends, about steadfastness toward one's goals.
When Mary Margaret was putting on an event, big or small, she planned every detail and allowed for every possibility. But there was often a moment, common to those who care about what they do, when she would get nervous and wonder if everything would turn out right. Toward the end, after our walks, she would sometimes say: "Don't give up on me, Bill. Don't forget me."
Speaking for myself, and I think for thousands of those whose lives she touched, I will now say, "You didn't give up on us, MM. And we will never forget you.
H. W. Brands is Dickson, Allen, Anderson Centennial Professor at The University of Texas at Austin.
"I am grateful for Mary Margaret Farabee's contributions to the Texas Book Festival as the founding cochair and director in its early years. President Bush and I send our deepest sympathies to Senator Ray Farabee and Mary Margaret's daughter Patricia Albright."