I believe it was in the early 1990s when I first saw Mary Louise Beecroft from a distance. I was with my family in our usual seats near the back of the sanctuary at Beth Jacob Synagogue. Mary Louise was sitting way up in front.
Right from the start, I knew Mary Louise must be special. She had to be since she scored a place of honour beside Gloria Silverman at this and almost every Shabbat service. Gloria was not only the rebbetzin, the wife of the synagogue’s long-time rabbi, Israel Silverman, she was a scholar and teacher in her own right. Gloria, principal of Beth Jacob Hebrew School, was known for her brilliance and her leadership. Who was this woman Gloria selected as her seatmate?
Several weeks passed before I had a chance to introduce myself to Mary Louise, who was attractive, statuesque, and elegantly dressed in a conservative, well-put-together way. She seemed confident, yet approachable. When we began chatting, our conversation was easy. Within minutes of talking to her, I was won over by her obvious warmth and good nature.
When Mary Louise divulged the fact that she wasn’t Jewish, quite frankly I was puzzled. She attended Beth Jacob regularly; she seemed knowledgeable about the intricacies of the services, and she seemed devoted to Judaism.
As we became friends, I realized that Mary Louise, who didn’t convert to Judaism but who held Judaism close to her heart, was committed to the faith. A trip to Israel with her husband Dennis had ignited a spark, and from that point on she rekindled the flame by studying and absorbing all she could about Jewish traditions and Jewish values. In recent years, Mary Louise, a lifelong learner of Judaism, joined a Torah study group and became an active participant.
Her thirst for knowledge and culture was broad. She was an avid reader, a classical music devotee, and a theatregoer.
But from my perspective, the best thing about Mary Louise was her kind heart. Many years ago, she befriended an older woman who was a Beth Jacob congregant. This woman had no close family, other than her husband, and when he died, Mary Louise stepped in. She enlisted Dennis, and the two of them took on the responsibility of caring for the woman, even though she was living in St Catharines. They visited her often. As she aged and needed more help, they supported her emotionally and practically, even assisting her with financial matters. And when she could no longer live alone, they helped her sell her house and transition to long-term care in Hamilton. To ensure she would be as comfortable as possible in her room at the long-term care facility, they picked up her furniture from her place in St. Catharines and drove it to Hamilton. Mary Louise and Dennis had become her surrogate family.
By all rights, I should have been a bit intimidated by Mary Louise. I was a stay-at-home mom, run ragged with five children, and she was a former teacher, now a nurse, who worked as a clinical research coordinator. But Mary Louise had the innate ability to make the person she was with feel comfortable. She could talk to anyone about anything. She was vivacious. She drew people to her, and as far as I could tell, everyone liked her. Why wouldn’t they? She obviously cared about people. You can’t fake that.
As we became close friends, we were able to share our personal joys and angst. She talked with obvious pride about her wonderful sons, Doug and Michael, and later when Michael got married, about her treasured daughter-in-law, Courtney. When her husband Dennis’s name came up in conversation, Mary Louise had a twinkle in her eye. I knew Dennis was the love of her life.
Mary Louise and Dennis were devoted to each other during 55 years of marriage. They loved being together at their Brookview Court home in Ancaster. They appreciated dining out at both casual and fine restaurants. They enjoyed going to concerts and the theatre, and while they could, traveling to far-off countries.
There were medical ups and downs, but Mary Louise seemed to deal with every health challenge with fortitude. I couldn’t detect a whiff of self-pity on her part. She had a let’s-get-on-with-it attitude, taking one day at a time.
When I think about Mary Louise, I remember her strength and her goodness. She was a wonderful friend.
And when I remember her as Gloria Silverman’s seatmate at Beth Jacob services so long ago, and when I think about how Mary Louise and I were occasional seatmates in recent years, I know my company didn’t do her justice. I had little to offer Mary Louise in the way of religious knowledge or insight. Upon reflection though, maybe she was okay with the bit of levity I provided. I don’t think she minded a brief interlude from serious praying. She almost let herself laugh out loud when our conversation turned silly, like when discussed our height. How was it that we were taller than most of the other women attending the service?
Mary Louise towered over others in the way that mattered, with exemplary character and a caring soul. I will miss her.