Mary Wotton Frenning

Feb 11, 2013

Northport — Mary Wotton Frenning, a 10th-generation Midcoast Maine stalwart who devoted much of her life to working with and volunteering for youth, passed away unexpectedly Feb. 5, 2013, at her home in Northport.

Born and raised in nearby Rockland of pure Maine stock, she “defected” for the greater Boston area after graduating from Rockland High. There, she earned a master’s degree in education at Boston University, worked for 25 years as a guidance counselor in the Weston Public Schools, married John W. Frenning, and raised a daughter, Ann.

Mary’s career in Weston began at the high school, where she was renowned for her energy, compassion, the depth of her personal involvement and detail of her student evaluations. She went to considerable lengths to ensure that each student’s strengths were fully understood.

Later, Mary moved to the Weston Middle School so she could address core learning issues earlier and more effectively. A longtime family friend, Paul Davis, summed up: “It is impossible to overstate the importance of Mary in Weston as measured in lives.”

Mary’s lifelong partnership with the Hon. John W. Frenning began in politics. She was his campaign manager and strategist, and helped him serve as an all-too-rare citizen-legislator. As one of Boston’s last two Republican state representatives, he cast the votes, but always had Mary on his team, committed to public integrity, social conscience, environmental protection, and fiscal prudence. As influential leaders in a key state district, Mary and John were early supporters of future leaders like John Sears, Edward Brooke, and Elliot Richardson.

Mary was constantly curious about the world. Ann recalls that her mother’s favorite book was Rachel Carson's "A Sense of Wonder." That curiosity, together with the educational possibilities she experienced in Massachusetts, would inspire her to try transplanting some of the benefits back to her home state.

After years away, Mary seemed surprised to find there was much to Maine after all. In 1990, she and John sold their Boston-area house and moved to their retirement home in Northport built by a wishful-thinking John in 1965, and nicknamed “Dwelling Place.”

Though a very private person, Mary found her greatest fulfillment in public service. A month after her return to Maine, she promptly “unretired” and began work as an educational consultant with Maine School Administrative District 34, where she worked for another nine years, until 1999. It was here that Mary rededicated herself to youth, education and volunteerism.

Mary served first as a part-time guidance counselor at Belfast Area High School and as co-coordinator of the Peer Leadership Program, a student leadership and community service initiative that she helped found.

A full recounting of Mary's volunteer activities in her final 23 years in Northport, on top of her community service during her Boston years, would not fit in one article.

In Massachusetts, her volunteer activities included the Boston University Graduates' Club, the Greater Boston Young Republican Club (where she met John), 15 years as a board member at Human Relations Services, a mental health agency in Wellesley, and service as a volunteer counselor at the Women's Correctional Facility in Framingham.

In Maine, Mary's dedication to youth, education and volunteerism was legendary. Mary founded a family-service-providing collaborative called Building Communities for Children in 1993. From 1996 to 2003, she supported the Waldo County Child and Parent Council, a child abuse and neglect prevention agency, as both a board member and co-chair. From 2001, Mary served the University of Maine Cooperative Extension as a member of the executive board, and a member and treasurer of the Parents Are Teachers, Too program.

In education, Mary served as a board member and chair of recruitment and placement for the Waldo County affiliate of the Literacy Volunteers of Maine from 1994 to 2000. In 2001, she co-founded the Senior College at the University of Maine Hutchinson Center in Belfast, and served on its executive committee and board of directors. She served as the college's vice chair and led its committees on membership, public relations and volunteering.

An avid lifelong learner, Mary took many courses at the Senior College, and occasionally put together her own classes, including the popular “First Ladies of Six American Presidents.” From 2005 on, she served on the scholarship and expansion campaign committees for the University of Maine Hutchinson Center.

Volunteerism was like a mission for Mary. From 1996 to 2004, she served as Belfast buying coordinator and board member of “People for People,” a community holiday food-and-gift distribution project. She served on the Belfast Rotary Club's scholarship committee and as co-chair of the 100 Fund from 2004 to 2007. She also served as co-chair of the capital campaign for major gifts and board member for the Waldo County YMCA from 1998 to 2001.

Since 2002, she had served on the Coastal Mountains Land Trust as a member of the “Passey” (short for Passagassawakeag; Mary loved to quiz people on its pronunciation) Greenway Advisory Committee and Waldo County Advisory Group. From 2006 through 2007, Mary served on the Historic Restoration Campaign Committee for the Belfast Free Library. From 2007 on, she served as a board member for the Maine Community Foundation of Waldo County. From 2008 on, she served Habitat for Humanity for Waldo County as a member of the steering committee and as co-chair of the resource and development committee. She also served on committees to elect many select political candidates over the years.

She said that she was so deeply involved in so many activities because it was one way to bring enrichment into the lives of others, thereby sharing the enrichment that she found in daily life.

It was often said around Belfast that “no one says 'no' to Mary Frenning,” but even more important to her, she never said “no” to a worthy cause, and when she said “yes” to anything, she gave all that she had to it. Mary was recognized several times for her tireless and selfless dedication to the betterment of Waldo County and its people. The culmination was being named Citizen of the Year by the Belfast Chamber of Commerce in 2009. True to form, Mary did not understand why she was being recognized over her friend, whom she herself had nominated for the award.

After her second retirement, and when not volunteering, Mary devoted her time to baking brownies and lemon squares, being engaged in local politics, reading voraciously on topics that sparked her passion, such as U.S. history, attending operas, and researching her family’s lengthy Maine genealogy. The last gift her son-in-law, James Kossuth, gave her was the "Journals of Hezekiah Prince, Jr., 1822-1828,” written by one of her favorite forebears. She devoured it in less than a week, and started making lists of other family journals to add to her collection.

Mary was an uninhibited grandmother to her only grandchild, Lucy, whom she taught, among other things, to feed chipmunks and to play cards. In addition to Ann, James and Lucy, of Medford, Mass., Mary is survived by a sister, Ruth Wotton Wilson, of Oakland, and 10 nieces and nephews.

At Mary's request, there will be no funeral or memorial service. A private burial will be held in the spring at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass., where Mary will join her husband. In lieu of flowers, Mary has requested that anyone so inclined mail a personal remembrance, story, or photo of her to Ann, James and Lucy Kossuth at 88 Winthrop St., Medford, MA, 02155.

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