Palo Alto Online - Lasting Memories - Mary Finlayson's memorial

Mary Finlayson
Dec. 5, 1933-Feb. 12, 2024
Woodside, California

Submitted by Crippen and Flynn

Mary Finlayson passed away of a subdural hemorrhage in the early morning of February 12, 2024 at her home in Woodside, surrounded by her family. She had recently celebrated her 90th birthday, as well as the 70th anniversary of meeting her beloved husband Norris for the first time in January 1954. Mary Ann Ellis was born in Berkeley, California on December 5, 1933, the first daughter of Dr. Grant Ellis and Mary Laurine Holmes Ellis. A few years later, the family welcomed her younger sister Laurine ("Renie"), who became a lifelong best friend. Mary revered her father, a soft-spoken, highly intelligent, and hardworking man who was a beloved and respected family doctor in the community. Dr. Ellis deeply loved their mother, who was a force of nature: tall, beautiful, outspoken, opinionated, and fascinated by art, music and literature. The Ellis home was full of love, culture, and lively debate. Mary's life was also enriched by the presence of an extended family of Ellis and Holmes uncles, aunts and cousins whom she loved and was so proud of, and with whom she shared countless adventures and celebrations. From childhood, Mary embraced life with curiosity and a gift for bringing others along on her adventures. As a young girl she organized the neighborhood "Daring Club", a group of friends who engaged in vaulting fences and jumping off of the roofs of houses. The Daring Club members remained lifelong friends (although the vaulting and jumping was eventually retired after a few broken bones.) Mary also had an irrepressible love and gift for music. From a young age, she heard harmonies in her head, which she sang and arranged for her classmates to perform -- in one case while at Berkeley High School, in a quartet on national TV. As a senior, Mary served as President of the Girls’ Association, choosing the theme of “Friendship and Service."

Mary attended college at U.C. Berkeley, where she performed in a popular jazz singing quartet before transferring to Barnard College in New York to study art history. At church her first Sunday, she experienced an unexpected thrill when she met a young man who was visiting for the weekend from Harvard Medical School. For Norris and Mary it was love at first sight. On their second date, Norris proposed and Mary accepted. They married in August of that year, in the Salt Lake City Temple, and have remained passionately and tenderly in love ever since.

The young couple lived first in Boston, Massachusetts where Norris continued his medical studies and Mary completed her college degree at Boston University. Soon after, they welcomed their first daughter. Two sons followed during medical residencies in San Francisco and Boston, and then after moving back to the Bay Area they welcomed their second daughter, another son, and two more daughters. Family life was full of activity: learning, music, sports, service in church and community, and unforgettable rich friendships with people from all walks of life visiting from near and far. The kids never knew who would be joining the family for Sunday dinner -- it seemed there was always someone, new or familiar, who received a warm welcome, a delicious meal, and lively discussion accompanied by warmth and laughter. No one knows exactly how many people have stayed with Mary & Norris in their home and cottage: individuals and families, sometimes because some life crisis created an urgent need, and at others simply because Mary and Norris loved them and were delighted to have them stay while in town. (And the former invariably morphed into the latter.) Some stayed for a few days, some for weeks, and some for months and even years.

Mary threw herself into the enrichment of her seven children's minds and hearts. Their home overflowed with books, art, music and educational materials of all kinds. School absences (mostly properly excused) were common for special outings to museums, plays, concerts and educational travel. Several of the kids had "home school" years with curriculum tailored to their interests and gifts. And undergirding all family discussion was a deep core of Mary's moral strength, highlighting the importance of kindness, loving service, faithfulness, and generosity. She pointed out and celebrated the many role models, "heroes and altruists", who inspired her, and she assured us we could surely find more all around us if we looked for and appreciated them.

Mary expected her children to enjoy mental achievements and the joy of learning for its own sake. This joy proved infectious, as all of their children went off to challenging universities to study art, history, classics, literature, political science, biology, law, medicine and other fields.

Throughout Mary's life, her love of music brought her great joy and meaning. As a young woman she learned to read music, and to play the piano, flute and harp. Although she considered herself never to have been formally "trained", she had an excellent ear, a lovely voice with near perfect pitch, and loved to sing with talented friends. As a young woman she was thrilled to sing in the Chorus Pro Musica with the Boston Symphony, and later with the Oakland Symphony Chorus. She sang in countless church choirs, including the celebrated "Valparaiso Singers", a Menlo Park-based traveling choir group that performed a variety of choral music with great enthusiasm and gifted leadership. Later in life, Mary spent more time on musical composition, producing a wide range of choral, oratorial, celebratory (for baptisms, for the birth of a friend's child, or a colleague's son's Bar Mitzva), children's (including the Portola Valley Elementary school song) and instrumental music. She was surprised and delighted when her work was well-received by musicians of talent and advanced training whom she greatly respected.

Mary was a creative and inspiring leader, and supportive follower, in both church and community life. After returning to Berkeley (the place where she had co-founded the notorious "Daring Club" many years before), as a young mother she co-founded the Berkeley Montessori School in 1963 (now “The Berkeley School”). Over the years she served as President of local church organizations for women (Relief Society), young women, and children (Primary). She taught adult Sunday School class (Gospel Doctrine), and for many years co-taught with Norris an inspirational and much appreciated marriage class.

Mary was a woman of great faith, a lifelong practicing Christian in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She drew strength and insight from the teachings of both ancient and modern prophets, and cherished a deeply felt personal relationship with a God who she knew in her bones loved her more than she could even comprehend, and equally loves all of His precious children. Mary also profoundly appreciated the commonality as well as distinctiveness that she found in the faiths of her many friends whose traditions she deeply admired and respected, including the ancient faith of Judaism, the deep traditions and philosophy of the Catholic faith, whose scholarship she read for inspiration with great appreciation, and the warm and open community of the Woodside Village Church. Her faith inspired her to embrace everyone she met as a fellow child of God. She left this world fully expecting to meet every one of us again. Mary is survived by her husband Norris, their children Mary Bliss (Lewis Hassell), Grant (Pam Hutchcraft), John (Jennifer Fife), Elizabeth (Jim Nadel), Samuel (Erika Lambert), Emily (Riccardo Stoohs) and Susan (Elliott Ferris), 15 grandchildren, one granddaughter who predeceased her, 18 great grandchildren, her sister Laurine, and many nieces, nephews and cousins. Mary's life will be celebrated at a funeral service commencing at 11 am on February 24, at the chapel where she worshipped, taught, served, sang and warmly greeted dear friends for the past 57 years: 1105 Valparaiso Ave in Menlo Pk.

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