February 6, 2013
There’s this photograph that’s been part of my life for many years. It hangs on my living room wall centered directly under a large sign that boasts: "Loran Larsen State Park."
In the photo are four then-much-younger men gathered around Mary Mair, a very special woman. All five of us sport huge grins. We were already family but time would bring us even closer. When word came that Mary had passed away last week in Salt Lake City, recollections of times spent in her company returned in a flood.
But to go back, I think the first time I noticed Mary was when she and a few other local women were busy building sandwiches in the rear of the food-service area on the middle floor of what was then the Lodge at the old Treasure Mountain Resort.
The year 1968 had only been around for a few weeks when four of us who still lived in L.A. decided on a road trip to visit friends already hunkered down in Park City and, of course, get in a few turns while we were at it. So there we were, Mary in the back and our bunch at the counter ordering our pre-ski breakfast when, momentarily, our eyes met and then went about their business.
Years later, we would both recall the moment. Mary’s eyes sparkled, as they always did when she recounted humorous events from the past. The reason she had looked up, she informed me with delight, was in response to one of her co-workers whispering, "Get a load of them hippies."
A couple of years later, after I had moved to Park City, we began running into each other at various spots about town. She and her husband Allen lived just off the batting-cage area down at City Park and Mary showed up at a lot of softball games.
Living behind the old Miners Hospital and working as a bartender up at the resort’s Rusty Nail Saloon gave me plenty of other opportunity to bump into Mary during my early years in town. She just had to be one of the friendliest people I had ever met and the welcoming manner in which she treated us newcomers was not the norm by any stretch.
Once the ’70s had run their course – a decade during which I spent most of my working time at various radio stations down in Salt Lake – the creation of KPCW and a job at the Park City Ski Area had me hanging out more and more in Park City. After that, Mary and I saw even more of each other.
But not as much as we would once I transferred to the Building Maintenance Department at the ski area, where Mary held forth in a most dignified den-mother fashion. A Uriarte girl, she flaunted her Basque heritage, and not only made me feel a part of her working family but also, as with all of her friends, part of her family as a whole.
Mary became our godmother. She held us in her heart while attempting to protect us from our inner demons. There were many times when she was successful – other times, somewhat less so.
But no matter the gravity of our offense, she nurtured each of us along on our respective journeys, however ill-thought-out they may have been. She loved her "little bastards," as she affectionately referred to us, and if there was ever anything we needed, we knew where to go.
And that brings us back to the picture that hangs on my wall. You can tell at first glance that it was very early in the ski season (1985) due to the cloud of white spewing from the older-style snowmaking machines and, other than on the lower ski runs, the general lack of snow on the mountains. A vintage Thiokol groomer and a Skidoo snowmobile also add to the fabric of the photo and the timeframe.
We building maintenance workmates pose with the tools of our trade. Jim Runyon holds a paint roller; Robin Linden has a snow shovel; Pitch Schooler sports a urinal screen around his neck; and I’ve got a toilet plunger. Actually, as I would learn later, it was rightfully termed a "hydro thrust force cup."
Mary, beautiful Mary, the center of attention, has a toilet brush stuck in her pocket and the warmest, most natural smile you could ever imagine spread across her beautiful face. A more eccentric family photo of a more eccentric bunch would be difficult to fathom. The beauty and the beasts, as it were.
All who ever crossed Mary’s path have similar stories and will miss her as much as we. She was the quintessential Western mining town queen of nobility, integrity and loyalty and had more love in her heart than any hundred of the current crop. How could you expect less? She was Mary Mair, godmother to scoundrels and a true Park City legend!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.