I want to talk about Mary Willard and her wonderful life…if this were a scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the angel Clarence would be showing what the world would be without Mary. Years of laughter would be lost from her brilliant career as a television and theatre writer. She would not have been the President of Farrah’s Angels and raised many thousands of dollars to help fight cancer. Without Mary, The Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Los Angeles would not have been blessed by having her preside over their auxiliary for many years and, besides raising funds, she shined a spotlight and raised awareness of the crucial need for mentors for underserved children in L.A. And, until the moment we lost her, Mary might not have raised the bar and become a vital member of the Actors and Others for Animals Board of Directors. (Keep your wings Clarence.) That is where I got to know Mary Willard.
Before she joined the A&O Board, Mary was a laudable supporter. She bought tables and brought her friends to attend our events. And when she started working with us, her energy and deep caring for animals helped us reach new heights. At our last board meeting, two weeks before she passed, Mary and I planned to have a one-on-one meeting to help us find creative ways to bring new young actors into our organization and find passionate animal lovers to perhaps join our board. We were waiting for some tests she needed prior to a surgery to be out of the way…of course there was no meeting, no tests. And unbelievably, no Mary.
Somehow untethered, I’m still waiting for that meeting…
Mary was such a formidable presence to all who knew her. Even though it’s been a month since her sudden, unexpected death, it still is barely possible to acknowledge her not being here anymore. She made people feel good about themselves — such an excellent quality.
Go to Mary Willard’s Facebook page. It is now a “Remember Mary” page. There are love letters and gratitude from so many friends that Mary embraced into her life and family. It’s uplifting to know about her.
I’m humming George M. Cohan:
For it is Mary, Mary
Plain as any name can be…
And there is something there that sounds so square
It’s a grand old name
Mary was a powerful and passionate patriot and embodied the 4th of July. Her 3rd of July parties blazed with flags and fireworks, pageants and parades with guests eating, singing “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” dressing up and marching in joyful circles around the tennis court. And the same enthusiasm and inclusiveness for all the happy holidays.
As Fred Willard’s wife of 50 years, Mary was by his side throughout his career, offering support as he rose up from the world of improv comedy to score a career in television and movies. She wrote plays and Fred starred in them.
Fred and Mary, Mary and Fred. They have a sensational daughter named Hope. What else? Hope is married to Mitch Mulbarger and their son Freddy is the apple of everybody’s eye…and so adored by his grand grandparents.
At Mary Elizabeth Willard’s funeral at the Old North Church in Forest Lawn, deer were frolicking about on a lower lawn. She would have loved that…we did.
I’m visualizing Mary on a cushy cloud catching up on books that she loved so and sending comforting puffy hugs to her legion of friends.
And now, a closing number from Mr. Cohan’s musical, Forty- five Minutes from Broadway:
So long, Mary Mary, we will miss you so!
So long, Mary how we hate to see you go
And we’ll all be longing for you, Mary while you roam
So long, Mary
Don’t forget to come back home
We’ll sing, and we’ll talk…
Jackie Joseph is a writer and actress best known for her TV roles as Alan Brady’s niece Jackie on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” the voice of Melody in the animated “Josie and the Pussycats” and as Jackie Parker on “The Doris Day Show.”