In August of 1987, the Staten Island Advance ran a feature story called “It’s never too late to change,” in which several people were profiled who had returned to college later in life. One of them was Mary Boody ’86, a secretary in the Wagner alumni office who had recently finished her bachelor’s degree at the College.
One amusing anecdote from that story captures the spirit of youth, enthusiasm, and openness that characterized Mary Boody until the very end of her life, last May at the age of 86.
“Mrs. Boody told of taking a three-credit course in human sexuality that she thought would be an ‘easy A,’” the Advance recounted. “ ‘Because I’ve been married, had three children, and thought I knew all about the subject, I took the course,’ relates Mrs. Boody, adding laughingly, ‘I found there was a lot to learn, that I was lucky to get a B in the course.
“ ‘There’s always something new to learn.’ ”
Mary Boody moved from her hometown of Frankfort, Kentucky, to New York City in 1946 to study art at Cooper Union. All her life, she painted, specializing in portraits and landscapes. But marriage and family interrupted her formal studies.
Mary Boody started her employment at the College in 1971, and she worked especially closely with the late John “Bunny” Barbes '39, longtime coach and alumni director. Along with Bunny’s wife Lila '40, they were “the three amigos,” says Mary’s son, Lee Boody. “I couldn’t think of bigger cheerleaders than the three of them. At Homecoming, they would dress up in Wagner green and root and yell and cheer and scream like teenagers. It was nice to see, the enthusiasm and Wagner spirit that they had.”
Eventually, Mary enrolled in classes and completed her bachelor’s in art, cum laude.
Yet, Mary Boody’s life was not without its troubles. Her other son, Robbie, died at a young age, in 1975. Like his mother, he was an artist. Mary’s response was to establish a fund at Wagner in Robbie’s name, the Robbie Boody Memorial Award in Art, to encourage other young artists to continue with their work. For about 20 years, the art department has named one student annually to receive the cash prize. At Mary’s death, she left additional money to the prize fund. The family (including Lee and her daughter, Betsy Quillin) has renamed it the Robbie and Mary Boody Memorial Award in Art.
Art professor Bill Murphy, who began teaching at Wagner in 1984 and remembers Mary’s days as a student and a colleague, says that the prize is a valuable asset for the department. “The award lets the students know that we acknowledge what they’ve done. It gives them a little encouragement to move forward as artists.”
Boody Prize winners like Robert Geronimo ’09 and Shauna Sorenson ’10 provide proof of its value. They were on campus this March to speak about their post-graduate development as artists. Geronimo has been working in comic-book illustration, going to graduate school in art history, and starting his own book publishing company, Ascalon Press. Sorenson has also started graduate school in art, works as a grant writer at a Brooklyn art gallery, and is helping to run a project creating art based on scientific research.
Mary Boody’s spirit of enthusiasm for art and for lifelong learning indeed lives on through the College, the faculty, and the students she loved so much.