Sunday, October 14, 2012

Remembering Mary Kay

On Thursday, September 27, 2012, Mary Kay Meeker passed away. I worked with Mary Kay for nine summers. Below is something I wrote the day after her passing, but didn't get around posting it until now.

The first time I came to Camp Timber-lee was in the summer of 1999. That was also the first time I met Mary Kay Meeker. I had arrived at staff training late and most of the rest of the summer staff was out and about on a scavenger hunt. My village leader took me to the village that I would be staying in for the week and I got settled in. Later that night, Mary Kay picked me up in her golf cart and took me to where the rest of the summer staff was playing some night game. I don’t remember too much about the conversation except that when I mentioned my college friend who had told me about Timber-lee, Mary Kay said, “Ah, yes, I know him. He’s one of the good ones.”

That first summer, I didn’t have a whole lot of interaction with Mary Kay. Back in those days, if you were a first time summer staffer, Mary Kay seemed intimidating, sitting atop a hill in her golf cart surveying the comings and goings. Occasionally she would stop me and ask me how my week was going, but beyond that, I didn’t have much personal interaction with her. I do remember an incident during the last week of camp that summer. I had a camper who had to leave early or something and it ended up with me getting a personal ride with Mary Kay in her golf cart. I don’t remember the whole conversation, but it was more personal than the one I had not long after my arrival at the beginning of summer. She asked about my future plans, she asked me what was my most memorable part of the summer, she asked me what was the biggest challenge I faced that summer, she asked what I thought about my experience, etc. Then she said, “I hope you come back, Tom. You’re one of the good ones.”

I did come back to Timber-lee the next summer (and the next and the next until I worked there for nine summers). It was that second summer that I really got to know Mary Kay. That summer, the summer of 2000, was the most difficult and challenging summer of my life. I had a lot of difficult cabins that summer, including one that ended up being my most difficult (and memorable) ever. It was halfway through the summer, during the week of Independence Day. I had a cabin that consisted of four inner city kids from Milwaukee, three kids from the wealthy suburbs of northern Illinois, and one kid from the suburbs and middle class of western Chicagoland. There was major culture class from the get go, but there was also some major spiritual warfare, particularly with one camper. While waiting in line for supper that night he told me point blank, “I hate you.” Things worsened from there. By the middle of the week, the almost unthinkable happened to this camper, (who I’ll call Johnny): he was going to be sent home.

We went to his room to pick up his belongings. Then we went to the main office to speak with Mary Kay. She hadn’t yet called to have him picked up and was going to have him do that, but first she wanted to have a chat. It was during this meeting that Mary Kay came to be one of the women I have most respected and admired in the world. She started talking with Johnny and after asking about four or five questions, he was crying. She knew exactly the right questions to ask to get him to open up and all the barriers came tumbling down. She knew children so well. She gave offered Johnny the opportunity to stay at camp, but only if I was willing to continue to be his counselor. I agreed. I wish I could say that Johnny stayed at camp for the rest of the week and things improved dramatically. Things improved, but only temporarily and on Friday afternoon, less than 18 hours before the end of the camp week, Johnny was sent home.

Even though I had known Mary Kay before then, it really wasn’t until that week that I got to know her. During that week I was made fully aware of all the things that went on behind the scenes that many summer staff people have no idea about. More importantly, I got to know Mary Kay much better and from that point on she no longer seemed to be the intimidating figure sitting in the golf cart atop the hill and was instead not only my supervisor, but my friend.

I know that Mary Kay touched the lives of countless others. More importantly, the light for Jesus that glowed forth from her spirit was brighter than any Olympic torch or city upon a hill. Physically she is no longer with us and she has gone to claim her reward from the Master. Those of us who knew her, will carry the memories of her with us throughout our lives. Well done, good and faithful servant. I look forward to the time we meet again.


Aaron Leonard said...

thanks for posting this tom. I know exactly what you mean, from the few interactions that I had with Mary Kay I saw all of this in her. As an intern and sparks leader at her church she was always very encouraging and I could tell that she believed in me more than I did myself.

TV said...

Aaron Leonard! How are you? Anyway, you're welcome. The writing didn't come out as good as I hoped, but I felt I really needed to write something. Thanks for reading.