Memorial Tribute for Mary Ann Holser
In Memory of Mary Ann (Corbett Harris) Holser
21 May 1928 – 23 February 2018
Mary Ann was born in Detroit, Michigan, to Walter John Leo Corbett and Audrey Margaret (Harris). After their divorce she resided with her mother and younger sister Barbara, until the age of five when she was adopted by her maternal great uncle Ray and his wife “Aunt Bird” Harris, who were in their 50’s and had no other children.
She lived her life with great ambition and curiosity about the world, which she confronted with compassion, friendship, joy, and love. As a child, weekends were spent fishing and boating in summer and ice skating on the lakes in winter, as well as creating epic adventures with her best friend Dorothy. She later entertained the grand- children with “Mary Ann and Dorothy” stories which we all swore she made up on the spot, but later found to be true.
A bright and motivated high school student as well as a tennis champion, she entered the University of Michigan hoping to become a foreign diplomat only to find the field did not accept women. She focused instead on journalism and social work degrees and became a member of Alpha Xi Delta sorority which promoted excellence in academics. Time off in college was spent with new friends hiking and exploring the surrounding countryside, which lead to working in summers as camp counselor at several youth camps in Maine and Wisconsin, directing the dramatic plays and teaching sports. She continued playing in competitive tennis leagues well into her seventies, and never missed the opportunity to see and support theater productions wherever she went.
Mary Ann met Bill Holser, the love of her life, on a blind date at a hamburger stand in Columbus Ohio, where he was a geochemistry graduate student. They moved to his native state of California, where they raised their 3 children, Tom, Alec, and Margaret. She immersed herself in causes both local and global, using her social work degree to join the Los Angeles mental health crisis unit working with street gangs in the early fifties. With her background in drama and sports, she helped the street youth organize theatrical productions for the neighborhoods, incorporating their Latin art and culture.
The couple traveled extensively in the US and all over the world for Bill’s geology work, and they made lifelong friends where ever they went. The family jokes that whenever someone spoke of a place to visit, Mary Ann’s usual response was “Oh I’ve been there!”. She was a fluent Spanish speaker and learned enough languages through travel to communicate in most countries they visited.
Mary Ann’s extensive career used her leadership skills and education to run programs for mental health, alcohol addiction, and recreation, and participated in studies to show how these were all interlinked. She was also a writer, and when she wasn’t publishing reports on these findings, she was engaged in writing poetry, much of which was too steamy for her children!
When she turned 55, she decided she wanted to try some other adventures, so she attained a master’s degree in Public Administration at Harvard’s Kennedy School for Professional Development. From there she landed a position as an assistant professor at The State University of New York in Cortland, where she taught public health courses (including statistics which she despised), for six years, and in the middle of it she finished her doctorate at the University of Oregon in Community Health Education.
Mary Ann never lost her love for the outdoors, and often trekked by snow shoes, cross country skis or hiking to camp out at remote huts. At 62, she and Bill (70) accompanied their son and his wife on a backpacking trip up to timberline on Mt. Adams, a feat which is not lost on her children who are now reaching that age and not nearly in the same shape.
Always interested in politics, Mary Ann was an active participant in marches, committees and advocated for issues that focused on the disenfranchised, the environment, and women. She was elected three times as representative to the Democratic National Convention and was passionate about leaving this world a better place for her children and grandchildren. Up until her recent hearing loss, she would debate with any willing participant the causes she supported, never lacking the energy to sell her side, making dinnertime especially active with ongoing global discussions.
Mary Ann leaves behind her sons, Tom and Alec, her daughter Margaret, three grandchildren, and a great granddaughter. Her friends and family will always treasure the energy and vitality she brought to life and the real impact she has made toward greater understandings between people across the world.
We hope that those who read this will join in writing any stories they have about knowing Mary Ann, and help celebrate her life with us.
If you wish to donate to an organization in memory of Mary Ann, please consider the International Peace Institute: https://www.ipinst.org/
It was a pleasure getting to know Mary Ann in 1984 when we were selected by the Gary Hart delegation to represent Oregon on the Rules Committee for the Democratic National Committee. We met in Washington DC ahead of the national convention in San Francisco. Other members of the Rules Committee included mayors Coleman Young of Detroit and Andrew Young of Atlanta. Washington Mayor Marion Barry hosted a reception for the committee members and greeted each one of us personally.
I always enjoyed reconnecting with Mary Ann at the state Democratic Platform Conventions for years afterwards. She always had so much energy and passion for all of the issues that we Democrats were trying to solve. I will be thinking of her as I attend the 2018 platform convention.
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