by Robert Gillis; Foxboro Reporter December 2006
Mary Cicciu passed away November 10, and Foxboro has lost another of its rare gems.
I met Mary on Founders Day in 1995, at the senior’s tent on Booth playground, where her friends were celebrating her 84th birthday. I was immediately taken with her — she was special, and although I saw her infrequently, I just adored her.
Oh my Lord, what a feisty woman. She was short; very petite, but that small body held a fire and passion for life that people half her age have trouble finding.
Back in 1996, I’d written one of my very first columns for this newspaper; the subject was “exceptional senior citizens” I knew. I mentioned Mary by name, that she was an amazing woman, still going strong, working at the senior center (then at temporary quarters), and that she was an inspiration.
Well, she thought that was just wonderful. She clipped that column, showed it to a lot of people, and was still talking about it long afterward. It made me happy that she liked it so much.
I knew Mary best from my contact with her at the Foxboro Senior Center and COA. Mary worked with Lorraine Garland when Council on Aging was trying to find a permanent home, and worked for years after that dream became a reality, first with Lorraine, then with Vicki Withers and the incredible staff at COA.
In fact, not only does Mary’s name appear on one of the large brass plaques as you enter the Senior Center, she appears in the picture at the groundbreaking ceremony itself — Mary’s there in her little hardhat. She was so proud when the dream became reality — a permanent home for the much needed senior center.
Occasionally, I’d bump into Mary at Saturday morning mass at St. Mary’s; I would see her there with my cousin, Lorraine McMasters. She always seemed so happy to see me. She was like that with everyone — she looked at you with genuine interest and affection when she talked to you, and it just warmed your heart.
Mary was so memorable, and I thought I’d share some of favorite anecdotes …
In 1998, when Sue won “Citizen of the year,” we needed a way to get her to the community center unawares, so everyone told her it was Mary who had won. Sue was elated about Mary’s winning. Mary was in on the ploy and was there to congratulate Sue. (Mary loved Sue. She ALWAYS asked about Sue.) And I recall Sue mentioning that as honored as she was, she wished Mary HAD won!
I remember seeing Mary at one of the senior Christmas fairs, and I asked her how she was doing, and she told me she was in a very bad mood. I said, “Mary, you’re never in a bad mood, what’s the matter?” And she said, “I had to quit smoking.” Now at the time, Mary was about 90 years old, and I thought that was hilarious. I said, “Mary, you’re 90 years old, come on!” And she said, “Bob, I’m angry, I had to quit smoking, and I’m not happy about it.”
She was such a character, and she was so straightforward, so direct, no BS.
She broke her hip in 1999 — and returned to work at the senior center after healing in record time!
I don’t think I ever told anyone this next story. In 2002, on the day before what would have been my Nana’s 100th birthday, for some reason I bought two packages of flowers. One bouquet I placed on Nana’s grave, but for some reason I wanted to give the other bunch to a living person — someone special — and I immediately thought of Mary. So I stopped by her house and gave them to her. I told her that the next day would have been Nana’s 100th, and I wanted another of my favorite seniors to have the other flowers. I told her I loved her. I thought she was going to cry.
That same day, I dropped a truckload of donated food from Stop & Shop at the food pantry. On my way out of her house, Mary had provided me with an armload of extra supermarket plastic bags that she said she “pilfered” when she went shopping. She said she usually grabbed more but the employees were looking at her funny — I promised to say nice things at her trial if she was arrested for stealing empty shopping bags for the food pantry.
In 2003, I wrote a column about the senior Christmas fair and wrote this about Mary: “First, I just adore Mary Cicciu. At 91, this feisty, sweet, amazing senior still works full time at COA, walks without a cane, is sharp as a tack and is an inspiration to people half her age. I wrote years ago how remarkable I believed Mary to be, and that impression has only increased with time. I love her dearly. At the fair she was manning the “mitten tree” and selling other holiday goods, chatting with everyone she met like an old friend … Whether I see Mary at mass, around town or at COA, she always has something good to say, always greets me with a hug, and is sincerely loved by so many people. Mary, we adore you.”
Mary worked at the Senior Center until — I believe — 2004, when she just couldn’t do it anymore. I think having to finally retire really broke her heart — she loved to work, she loved being out and about with the people and friends she loved so much.
And that was one of the many reasons Mary was so remarkable — at an age when most people are twenty years past retirement and at least a decade past thinking about “winding down,” Mary continued to be an inspiration to everyone, a 90-ish woman who worked four days a week and made a difference.
The last time I saw her was at the Senior Christmas Fair in 2005. She wasn’t working the fair that day, just visiting. Lorraine McMasters had brought her there.
I gave Mary an advance copy of my “Nana” book, and read part of the dedication to her: “To Mary Cicciu, one of the most remarkable seniors I’ve ever met. Mary, I love you.” That seemed to mean a lot to her.
I’m not the one to tell Mary’s life story — her childhood, her family, her highs and lows — that wasn’t the Mary I knew.
The Mary I knew was a woman whose advanced age and petite stature belied an exuberant spirit, a love of life and a joy in helping others. She was an inspiration; she was a true friend.
I’m very sorry to learn of her passing, but I don’t mourn her, I celebrate her life and am thankful we all knew her.
God bless you Mary. You were one of the grand dames of Foxboro, and you will never, ever be forgotten.
I love you, Mary. Rest in peace.