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Pat Donahue: Maryann was the best of us
Patrick Donahue
Patrick Donahue, Editor & General Manager

About a year and a half ago, an old Bradwell Institute classmate I hadn’t seen in nearly 40 years came to town.

Our paths diverged after graduation, and I think we saw each other once about a year or two after that hot, steamy June night at Olvey Field when we got our diplomas.

We got together for our first beer together as adults. It also turned out we knew some of the same people who didn’t go to Bradwell with us but crossed our own individual paths nonetheless.

Then, knowing my own answer, I asked my old friend Tom Wegner the question – who was the best person in our class?

Without hesitation, without a moment of thought and all these years apart, we had the same answer at the same time.

Maryann Smith. At a time when we were just cocky kids, everybody trying to be cool or act cool or trying to fit in – or even not wanting to fit in – there was one person who tried to speak as many people as she could every day. You know the old saying, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all? Maryann made sure she said hello and said something nice to just about everybody she could find throughout the day.

Maybe she didn’t know it, but it was a lesson for all of us, an object lesson in compassion, acceptance, and generosity.

My own career has taken me away and brought me back, more than once. The last time I came back, Maryann was a co-worker too. And that made me happy, knowing there was someone with her sense of humor and spirit in the building.

She left the company and forged her own way and became a successful business woman in her own right. When I came back about two years ago now, she was one of the first people I stopped in to see.

As much of a mark as she made in the business world, maybe she’s even better known for the heart she showed to animals. She was as fierce as an advocate for the care and protection as she was determined and driven with her business. Maybe even more so.

We were so incredibly lucky and protected back then as kids and teenagers. Any bullying that happened didn’t end in something violent. Any teasing or jokes at someone else’s expense didn’t end with something getting completely out of control. We all somehow managed to get along, even with needling each other whenever possible.

None of us really had any idea what the future would hold 40 years ago. Camaros were the car of choice then. Now? Not so much. Tom had a brown Camaro in high school. He came to pick me up in a minivan on the most recent occasion.

Through the years, we’ve lost other classmates far too early. But Maryann was the best of us. She wasn’t the valedictorian. She wasn’t the STAR student – some idiot got that distinction. She may have been the first of us on TV, though. She got on the “Wheel of Fortune.”

But it was us, her friends, her classmates, those who were lucky enough to know her, who got the real treasure of her friendship and kindness. God puts people along our path and sometimes we don’t know why. I think all of us knew deep down all along why He put Maryann alongside us – to make us and our lives better.

There may be fewer better signs of someone’s innate goodness than the number of people who show up to pay their last respects. Midway Methodist may not be the biggest church but it was so overflowing Wednesday they were sitting in the choir section and standing along the walls. It was a tribute to show just how many lives she touched and impacted.

The good die young, it is said. Maryann went far too young. She was the best in our class and maybe of any class.

Our world was greater for her presence and lesser now for her absence.

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