Mary Lee: My introduction to lesbian, feminist, environmental, and peace communities in 1970s Champaign, IL

Karen Mardy Keener
March 7, 2003

I met Mary Lee in the fall of 1970 when I arrived at Parkland as a new faculty member in English. My desk was at the entrance to the warren of offices in the Jefferson Building shared by the Social Sciences and Communications Divisions. Mary Lee would pass by me every day, and I remember her as the tall history instructor with long, light-brown hair who was always in a hurry to get places and get political things done. She was my first contact with the dynamic lesbian, feminist, peace, and environmentalist communities which evolved in Champaign in the 1970s.

Except that her long, light-brown hair is shorter and whiter now, Mary Lee hasn't changed much--she's still the "in a hurry to get places and get political things done" activist I admired then, still a fervent, outspoken advocate for justice in our world.

But I have known Mary Lee as a colleague and friend as well as a mover and shaker and trouble-maker. Over the past 33 years, Mary Lee and I have cried and laughed together through many shared experiences: deaths of family members and friends; several deaths and resurrections of the Parkland Women's Program; our outrageous skits in the annual Women's Community Variety Show; and our good work for Parkland in the E.N.C. Emperor's New Clothes), a group which was represented here today by four of its six members.

Mary Lee is as intense in her personal life as she is in her public life. For example, she is passionate about gardening and prairie preservation. She also has a sentimental soul and writes lovely notes for birthdays and Valentine's Day.

For me, Mary Lee has been a touchstone for evaluating issues in ethical and moral terms. While she and I don't work in the same ways in the world, our perspectives have always been complementary rather than opposed. As Alexander Pope said of Dr. John Arbuthnot, she has been my "guide, philosopher, and friend" through the 33 years of our friendship.

Thank you, Mary Lee, for making Parkland and Champaign-Urbana more exciting, enlightened, and humane places! And for making my life here more interesting! I will miss you--but New Hampshire is VERY lucky to be getting you!