Mary Smithies Cason passed away peacefully on November 3 at her home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina – eight years to the day after her beloved husband Walter passed away. Mary thrived in Chapel Hill, where she was devoted to community involvement, connecting people she loved with each other. Mary made many friends through her beloved dogs; in later years, she enjoyed being known for her fairy hair, which to those who knew her seemed like a manifestation of the magical touch she brought to their lives.
Born May 6, 1929 in Bradford, England, Mary was the daughter of a pharmacist and a homemaker who lived through the disruption and turmoil of World War II. She had a lifelong passion for helping organizations that provide direct service to people in need both in her profession as a counselor and in her volunteer roles in many organizations.
After several decades of dedicated work in England, Mary moved to the United States for John Walter Cason, a United Methodist seminary professor whom she later married. She worked in several church agencies and became a certified counselor for alcoholism and sexual dysfunction. Mary and Walter were active with their church and spent a year in the early 1980s in the country of Zimbabwe in Southern Africa.
Mary and Walter retired to Chapel Hill in 1995 and quickly became involved with the Orange County Rape Crisis Center. Working with hundreds of other volunteers and many staff, Mary served as a community education volunteer and a crisis companion; in these roles, she shared messages of healing and support to those in the community whose lives were affected by sexual violence. A natural leader who brought out the best in others, Mary joined the Rape Crisis Center Board, serving for several years in leadership roles including Board President. She described her experience working in the sexual violence field as “challenging, rewarding, and sometimes emotionally draining” and ultimately “life-changing.”
Mary and Walter often shared their mountain cabin in Weaverville, NC with individual staff and volunteers to allow them to escape to the country for much needed rest and rejuvenation. When Mary received the Margaret Henderson Award for Service and Self-Care, no one was surprised; she was an advocate for self-care practices as a part of social justice work long before the term came into more general use.
Mary’s succession of faithful canine companions led to participation in a dog training and drill team that performed at special events in Chapel Hill. Later in life, Mary became an active volunteer and was part of several committees at Eyes Ears Nose and Paws (EENP) – a non-profit that works with volunteers and people who are incarcerated to train assistance dogs that they then partner with people who have disabilities. When EENP named one of its dogs “Cason” in honor of her and Walter, Mary beamed with pride.
Mary and Walter were long-time participants in the Church of Reconciliation community in Chapel Hill, where she served on the Social Justice Outreach Committee and the Africa Support Group, as well as participating as part of the church’s caregiving program .
Mary’s quick wit, wry sense of humor, and sparkling sense of playfulness helped her quickly make friends when she and Walter moved into Carolina Meadows, where she spent nearly a decade. She welcomed people to the community and spent walks with her dog Cotton visiting with staff, friends, and anyone or anything the two of them encountered.
Mary’s husband John Walter Cason predeceased her. She is survived by four step-children: Jim Cason (Lora Lumpe); John (Mary Sue) Cason; Alice Sharrett; and Ann (Mark) Cason-Snow; and seven grandchildren: Emily, Grace, Claire, Ella, Milo, Henry, and Lily; and her godson Roger (Susan) Yelland in Bradford, England.
A small memorial will be held at Carolina Meadows in coming days, followed by a celebration of Mary’s life at the Church of the Reconciliation on Sunday, January 15. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation in Mary’s name to Eyes Ears Nose and Paws or the Orange County Rape Crisis Center.