Mary Ann Dowell (April 17, 1946 – June 19, 2012)
Mary Ann Dowell (“Murph” to those who knew her as a child and “Maw” to almost everyone else) of West Plains, Missouri, was born into this world on the living room floor of the family home in Norman, Oklahoma, on April 17, 1946. After a brief bout with sudden illness, our beloved wife, mother, grandmother, sister, and mother-in-law departed this life at the young age of 66 on Tuesday, June 20th. Her final moments of earthly existence were spent in the company of the family who loved her intensely – and then she was gone exactly in the manner she would have preferred – quietly and with dignity.
Mary Ann is survived by her husband and soulmate of 47 years, Charles Dowell; her children: Derek, Kent, and Drew; grand-children: Dakota, Keira, Atanna, Cassandra, LaTessa, and Evan; brothers and sisters: Jim, John, Betty, Evelyn, Elaine, and Jenny; and daughters-in-law: Christine, Lisa, and PJ. Mary Ann was preceded in death by her parents, Van Grady Bryson and Teresa Bryson, both of Houston, Texas.
Though born in Oklahoma, Van and Teresa soon relocated their growing brood to Houston, Texas, in search of work. Mary Ann spent her childhood on Halifax Street and met her future husband there at the age of six. After marriage and giving birth to three children over the course of two years, the family moved to Canyon, Texas, before settling for good in West Plains, Missouri, where Mary Ann and Charles realized their lifelong dream of owning land in the country.
“The farm,” as referred to by her family, came to be a place of calm relaxation from the chaos of the outside world for Mary Ann and Charles. It was where Murph indulged in her creative side with an impressive assortment of “old world” skills tike gardening, quilting, sewing, pottery, cooking, (and HOW she could cook) and almost any other activity she decided to try her hand at. In later years, Mary Ann found ever fewer reasons to leave the farm, preferring a quiet life among the wooded hilts, big sky, and near zoo quality selection of cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, cats, and dogs.
Mary Ann’s working life began immediately following high school at Gordon’s Jewelry in Houston, Texas, but she was forced to quit when management discovered her status as a single woman was in jeopardy – back then, some businesses preferred their sales associates unencumbered by family ties. Soon afterward, Mary Ann was hired as a secretary by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), where she worked in the office of one of America’s original Mercury Seven astronauts, Scott Carpenter.
In West Plains, Mary Ann worked briefly for the local unemployment office, then SMSU-West Plains (now MSU) in Dean Marvin Green’s office, before moving on to West Plains Bank, where she spent more than a decade as teller and proof operator.
After retiring from the traditional work world, Mary Ann embraced her next life adventure of entrepreneurialism. West Plains area residents might recall her genuine smile and ever-present “do-rag” from behind the counter of the Blue Coconut Seafood Market, which occupied a modest but flamboyant slice of real estate at 1450 West Stn Street for five years. As far as anyone can figure, this continues to be the one and only market solely dedicated to fresh and frozen seafood sales in the history of West Plains. Though the Blue Coconut closed its doors permanently more than two years ago, regular customers remember Mary Ann’s dedication to service, a spotless cleaning regimen, and the mouth-watering smell of her homemade shrimp gumbo simmering in the back room – samples for free, of course.
But Mary Ann’s greatest challenge and, hopefully, most richly rewarding occupation came from her tireless role (no overtime and no vacation) as wife and mother to one rambunctious husband and three rowdy boys. If ever there was a saint wandering down here amongst the sinners, it was Mary Ann when she descended the stairs each morning to make breakfast for the family.
No memory of Mary Ann would be complete without mention of her good-natured tolerance of husband Charles’s hot rod habit. With more than 200 acres, there was plenty of room available on the farm to hold the alternately dwindling and expanding collection of car hulks required by her husband to construct, mad scientist fashion, completely unique cars from the ground up, first under the shade of a front yard oak tree and later inside the mechanic shop put in to support his mechanical creations.
Mary Ann knew from the start she had married a gearhead (she later adopted the affectionate habit of referring to him as a “vroom vroom”) and the moments of slight regret were few over nearly half a century of matrimony. While she never completely understood the necessity of the sheer volume of retained, immobile vehicles, love of Charles made it seem a small price to pay.
Our walking piece of heaven, Mary Ann, lived her life with a fierce devotion to family, a passion that exceeded the all-too-human confines of a body increasingly debilitated by the unforgiving effects of painful arthritis. Though joints became enfeebled, complaining was not her nature. Mary Ann preferred to focus her attention outward, seeing to the wants and needs of everyone else. To the last her spirit remained strong, and then she was gone all too soon.
Whether you knew her as Mary Ann, Murph, Maw or the little girl playing in the dirt on Halifax Street, with never a cross word or selfish thought, she molded a collection of random human beings into a family that physical distance could not diminish and the march of time could not contain. Maw, you shaped us all in wonderful ways beyond the power of these pitiful words to describe – ways you could never fathom. If ever there existed a soul without ego, it was you. Your memory remains in our hearts and in our thoughts, forever. To the little girl from Texas, via Oklahoma, who found her home in Missouri – vaya con dios. Go with God.
Funeral services for Mary Ann Dowell will held Saturday, June 23, 2012 at 4:00 p.m. at Carter Funeral Home Chapel, West Plains, with Reverend Bob Arnold officiating, under the direction of Carter Funeral Home, Inc., West Plains.