Mary grew up in Michigan, where she attended Kalamazoo College, "a wonderful place."
After graduating, she moved east to work for the New York Public Library, which she calls a "boot camp for librarians, and a great experience." She worked her way up from the Bronx and Manhattan branch libraries until she became the director of the Rye Free Reading Room in Westchester County. Mary worked as the Director of three different Westchester County libraries, and in 1997 she came north to Plattsburgh as the director of the Clinton-Essex-Franklin Library System. While there, she purchased her camp in Saranac Lake as a weekend retreat.
When she retired, she moved to the camp.
Mary Brown, of Search and Rescue of the Northern Adirondacks and the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department
(Photo — Yvona Fast)
Brown out in her kayak
"I love the Adirondacks," she explains. "I enjoy camping, hiking, and rowing my Adirondack guideboat. I love being outdoors; I love the cold weather. Saranac Lake is a wonderful place to live. It's one of the few places in the world with both mountains and water. Usually you have to choose one or the other - and I love both." She feels maintaining the park is very important. "We're lucky to have it."
In her retirement, she has not been idle. Mary belongs to Search and Rescue of the Northern Adirondacks and the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department, and is the Fire Department Secretary. She came in as an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician).
"That is still mostly what I do. I have been an EMT for a long time," she explains. "In December I graduated from firefighter school. This was a terrific accomplishment; it was very difficult - it is very physically demanding - but people were very supportive."
A small woman, Mary had to carry a total of 60 pounds. "The turnout gear is 30 (pounds), and the airpack is 30," she said. "I was like a turtle - I couldn't get up. It's as close to Marine boot camp as I'll ever get. They taught us how to go into buildings safely when there's a fire, and how to search them."
As a Rotarian, Mary was in charge of the Rotary Show for the Winter Carnival.
"That project was a lot of fun," she said.
Mary is also working for the Census.
"I worked the 2000 census at the end of the century because my mother had worked on the 1950 census," she said. "I liked it very much, so I vowed, I'll work on the next one, too. I love meeting people, and this job gives you the opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people. The Census is a chance to stand up and be counted as an American - a patriotic duty."
After retirement, she went to work in Antarctica for six months.
"I've always wanted to go there," she said. "I started reading about polar exploration when I was in elementary school. It's fascinating."
So, when she found out she could work there, she jumped at the chance.
"I got in touch with the contractor, Ratheon Polar Services, through their website," she said. "They hire support staff for the National Science Foundation. Many scientists from Paul Smith's College have been to Antarctica. Also some people from this area went as carpenters and other trade workers."
Mary worked as a weather observer at Siple Dome, a deep field camp.
"The camp is named for Paul Siple, a major 20th-century Antarctic explorer,"she said. "While we were there, we celebrated his 100th birthday on Dec. 18, 2009. I baked a cake.
"There were three of us at the weather station. We ran a small airport. Planes came to drop off scientists and their equipment and refuel. I loved the scenery and the people. It was a wonderful experience."
Spiritually, Mary belongs to the Society of Friends (Quakers).
"Religion is an important part of my life," she said. "It's a constant, something that's always there. It's important to find a place that's supportive. I've always felt at home in Quaker meetings.
"I run around all week talking to people. For an hour on Sundays, I shut up and hear what God has to say. I feel blessed we have a Quaker Meeting in Saranac Lake. It's one of the reasons I chose to retire here.
"I feel lucky because I've been able to travel, hike and camp in a variety of places."
She especially enjoyed hiking in Switzerland and Nepal and snowshoeing in Labrador.
"I also hiked part of the Continental Divide trail in Colorado," she continues. "I love the American West - the scenery, the mountains - it's a wonderful place."
This lifelong Girl Scout explains: "Scouting introduced me to hiking, camping and boating, and taught me many lasting values. Besides, it's fun."
Mary enjoys the snow and cold weather. This winter, she went ice climbing for the very first time.
"Unlike rock climbing, where you have to stretch, you can make your own handholds and footholds, so it's easier in that way," she explains. "I hope to go again."
Mary is an example of someone who has retired to life, rather than from life. She has remained physically and socially active, and has tried many new, fun things. Through her involvement in the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department, the Rotary Club and Girl Scouts, she is able to give back and enrich her community.
Based on an interview with Mary Brown. Yvona Fast can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com.