Hello everyone, we are so glad that you're here.
I'm Jacquie, the youngest Corey sister.
We are ... of course ... inconceivably ... here to honor the life of my sister, our sister, your friend, colleague, cousin, niece, Auntie, great Auntie ...
She was small, but we called Mary Beth "Biggest"
She was the eldest, the trailblazer, the OG.
Upon first glance, Mary Beth's slight stature might be perceived as encompassing a passive or meek disposition. But then you'd catch a keen glance, a perfectly executed grammatical sentence, a quiet zinger of a witty retort, and you'd know that this woman was, as I often describe my daughter Clara, small but mighty.
When we were kids, Mary Beth towered over us physically and reigned over us proprietorially. She was taller, older, cooler, smarter, better dressed, and better looking. As we grew into women who morphed into basically the same physical form, she maintained her status as the uncontested best sister.
Who's better than you? (Mary Beth)
I was the youngest to Mar's biggest, and we shared a unique dichotomy as bookends to the four middle children between us. We had a special bond that manifested in truly unique agreements ... she bailed me out of a few tricky circumstances when I was young and getting into trouble. In fact, l kept Mary Beth's phone number on hand in case there was ever a need for actual authorities to call my guardian (there never was, Clara. I swear). And we had a long running ritual of sharing a popular song that we'd adapted to express the love between us ... we'd write the lyrics to each other in birthday cards, on important papers, once on the wall of my closet, her jug of contact solution, and in the border of my beloved Shawn Cassidy poster (which was also defiled by a curly mustache which no one has owned up to to this day) ...
that special song went a little something like this:
Whenever I see your smiling face
It makes me want to puke
Because you're ugly
Yes you are
She was so funny, so irreverent, so engaged and connected and invested in her family, her friends, her city, her life. Her beautiful, enviable, adventure filled, achingly private life.
How can that life be so suddenly gone?
It doesn’t make any sense. We all know that. We are all reeling, feeling the shock and disbelief and trauma of watching her light extinguish right in front of our eyes. It is impossible to imagine a world without the light of Mary Beth’s life, so let’s not. Let’s keep it illuminated.
In sorting through Mar’s apartment this week, we came across a snippet among the eclectic and copious notes that surrounded us, and it seemed like a nice way to close.
It’s a quote from Louise Penny that Mar had been compelled to jot down. It reads:
We just don’t know
The key is to keep going
Joy might be just around the corner.
We’ll keep going, Mary Beth, but it won’t be as fun.
My earliest memories of Mary Beth are of her sitting in the den reading a book and eating and apple, ignoring me. She was the oldest and just so cool, so she didn’t want much to do with me, but I noticed everything she did, and took note. She set the stage for her younger siblings. We watched her move gracefully through life, excelling in school and sports, listening to rad music, bringing home super cool friends. When she went off to college, I got to visit her one weekend and it was pretty much the highlight of my life. Her roommate’s little sister also came and we soaked it all up. There were gorgeous boys, our big sisters readying for their night out, and tales of a late night sledding accident, replete with a hospital visit for Mar’s date to get stitches. It was amazing. And I was just in the dorm room, eating pistachio nuts with my new friend. We got quite an education on college life.
Then Mar moved to NYC and cemented her rock star status. For the ages, we had a place to crash and an expert tour guide when visiting the city. It wasn’t until I moved to the Virgin Islands that Mary Beth also developed an interest in me – she visited every year. Those were some great times with her. My babies were little and she got to be in it with them. And I was still a baby, so having her there brought a sense of home. But mostly fun and shenanigans.
As time passed, and life flowed by, Mar continued to set the precedent. She never missed a birthday, and we’d always get a prompt thank-you note when she was the recipient. She was diligent in asking about everyone, and really wanted to know. She tended to us all, especially our mom in the years after Dad died. Her visits and commitment to their connection was everything to mom, and so comforting to us.
We got to have all six sisters together in April, when we gathered after mom died to clear out mom’s condo. It was such a sad time, but we got to be fully in it together, digging in to the photos and papers and mementos of the Corey Family history, laughing and crying and singing together, as we do. We were appreciating the novelty of it as we were in it, realizing the last time we six gathered without significant others, parents or kids was probably the night we saw Simon and Garfunkel at Shea Stadium in the 80s. We all stayed at her Woodside apartment. I got underaged trashed and, dancing to the music infamously exclaimed, “Come on, you guys, get into it!” When you hear my sisters say that, know that they are mocking me.
It's pretty amazing to me that we had Christmas together last year with mom, and that April weekend with Mar.
Notoriously private, Mar was reluctant to let us into the fold when she realized she was sick. She wanted to handle this and manage it for us. But very quickly she was very, very sick, and she understood it wasn’t manageable, and she let us in. The rug got pulled out from under our world, but I’ll be forever grateful to have had those last 18 hours with her. We got to take care of her, finally.
Mar lived a life playfully, but controlled, without spelling errors, with immense love for family, with dignity and with joy. She left this world peacefully and with utter grace. Still showing us how it’s done. Except it's hard to know what we do now without her.
Smile for the Ages (Todd Nigro)
Mary Beth, each day with you was special, it’s hard to express,
I loved your voice, smile, laugh, and your sweet tenderness.
Your joyful, playful spirit was such a contagious one,
A minute in your presence was bursting with fun.
I always enjoyed our adventures playing on the beach,
It’s heart breaking to realize you’re not within my reach.
You were so amazing and beautiful in so many ways,
Sincere, giving, and loving through all of your days.
I wish I could hug you right now, why did you have to go?
These days are hard without you, but this you should know,
When the day comes to join you in that heavenly place,
A beautiful smile for the ages will be on my face!
I’m going to read a paragraph from my favorite book, Charlotte’s Web. I’m going to read the last paragraph of my favorite book, Charlotte’s Web. So if you haven’t read it . . . spoiler alert.
E.B.White is a writer who wrote about writing. He wrote about how to write. He’s the best writer who ever lived, in my opinion. I’ve only been able to read children’s books since Mary Beth died -- I revisited Stuart Little and I revisited Charlotte’s Web, and I realized I wanted to share this paragraph with you, so I brought my copy from New London, from home. But then I got to Mary Beth’s apartment and of course, there was a copy on her shelf, her massive paperback fiction shelf, right there in the W’s. So I brought this copy.
The inside front cover says:
Sister Cramer 11:30-1:00
And then the title page says:
And the inside back cover has a little taped-on homemade library card, because, well, that’s how the Corey Girls roll.
Mr. Zuckerman took fine care of Wilbur all the rest of his days, and the pig was often visited by friends and admirers, for nobody ever forgot the year of his triumph and the miracle of the web. Life in the barn was very good—night and day, winter and summer, spring and fall, dull days and bright days. It was the best place to be, thought Wilbur, this warm delicious cellar, with the garrulous geese, the changing seasons, the heat of the sun, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, the love of spiders, the smell of manure, and the glory of everything.
Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.
Charlotte was both.
I am Jane, the fifth daughter. Mary Beth is 7 years older than me, so she went to college when I was 11. So much of our relationship really developed after she left home. But that does not mean that her influence on my childhood wasn’t significant. It was. I was thinking the other day about her role in our family. What’s interesting, on reflection, is Mary Beth’s style. We have a lot of alphas in this family, and MB was strong, to be sure, but she absolutely taught by example versus bluster or pulling rank. Yet her influence was profound. And she taught us a lot. I want to share with you some of the lessons I learned from Mary Beth, aka Biggest:
- How to be an adult
Before she headed off to Holy Cross, as I remember it, MB was sort of your typical sullen teenager, closed away in her bedroom at the top of the stairs. A lot of grunting and reading. But when MB came home from College in 1982, she lived at home for a while and reverse commuted to her first job, in Stamford. I was a sophomore in high school. So in addition to inheriting the sweet AMC Pacer she left when she moved into the city, I gained some lessons from watching a 22 year old who was just embarking out on the world:
I learned that you take your work seriously. Mary Beth was a hard worker, she was loyal, she was professional, she was utterly reliable, if MB said she was going to do something, she did it. she was detailed, she was patient. She modeled the motto that I think we all adopted: to work hard and play hard.
I learned that you should vote, that you shouldn’t be afraid to form and offer opinions, and that you should read the paper, (Ollie North story).
- How to be a woman.
In a family of women, with a strong mom, there was a lot of attention both internally and externally to the issue of womanhood. And MB, as the oldest, set a strong example. She showed me that being a strong, independent woman is something to aspire to, that it was cool. She taught me that Aging is ok. I asked her, when she was turning 40, how she felt about it, and her answer was: awesome. Same for 50. And 60.
She taught me not to let anyone get away with gender biased bullshit. And, related to that, that it’s cool to be a woman who likes and can talk sports (convo at bar story).
- How to be a friend
MB tended to her friendships: Look around – NHS class of 78, Bettswood Rd & Jackson Drive, Shorehaven, Holy cross, BBDO, her OG friends Robin and Mary – she showed up, she participated, said yes. She was incredibly thoughtful and encouraging.
- How to be an Aunt;
She was so good to my kids. She always asked about them, and invariably sent cash, gift wrapped, that arrived on time. We are pretty good about thank you notes in our family, but there was one year when our kids, early in the bday cycle, had tarried a bit on sending those thank you notes out. MB called it out – and she was right! And they never forgot thank you notes again.
- How to be a daughter
For the past few years, w/ Covid, MB started visiting mom every other week, laden w/ food and flowers and wine. She understood that what Mom craved most was company, and Mar was generous with her time and gave that to mom.
- Lastly, how to be a sister.
She took care of us and took her role as eldest seriously.
Looking through old pictures, it’s so striking: she has her hand on one of our shoulders, or is giving us a bath, or is holding one of us as babies in every picture.
She was good to us. She was sassy, but she was kind. There was no mistaking her authority, even as a little kid, but she was always nice to me and to my friends, never made us feel belittled or stupid.
She was so affirming. Every email – there was a lot, she acknowledged every single thing each of us said. I miss that.
And she showed up. Showed up to move Ann, showed up for my 40th and my 50th, for Jacquie’s 50th. Every time we came to CT, she came out from the city to visit.
And she was fun. She was so game and her attitude was always YES.
-I want to close with one of my favorite memories of MB. When Julie was still living on St. John, MB and I coordinated and visited for a week. The restaurant that Julie and Mike owned was busy, so Mar and I decided we would head over to Cruz Bay for dinner. Julie and Mike said we could take their truck, which was terrifying b/c they drive on the wrong side of the road there, but we went out to the parking lot and hopped in the truck, where the keys, as usual, were in the ignition. We got underway and after a few minutes Mar noticed that there was a birthday card that said “happy birthday to my son” on the seat, which we thought was weird, since Mike’s birthday was months away. But we filed it away as, weird but whatever, Mike must have given someone a ride. And then we sort of slowly noticed that the interior of the truck seemed odd, and not quite what we remembered. There was something hanging from rear view window that we hadn’t seen before. We looked at eachother with sort of dawning realization, and Mar reached into the glove box and pulled out the registration, and in horror we realized that this was not Julie and Mike’s truck. We were freaking out. We turned around, went back to the restaurant, intending to go inside and tell whoever’s truck it was, but then, as we pulled into the parking lot and saw the right truck, we both sort of nodded to eachother and got into Julie and Mike’s truck and drove away. We weren’t going to tell anyone, but, later that night we couldn’t resist, and told Julie and Mike, who immediately realized whose truck we had stolen. We roared in laughter and sort of stored that away as a crazy vacation faux pas. A couple nights later, in Cruz bay, Mary Beth and I were having a drink and got to talking to someone at the bar. Suddenly, the guy next to him said, you are julie’s sisters! You’re the ones who stole my truck! Word had gotten out. We bought him a drink, made amends, and have had a great story to tell for 30 years.
It’s impossible to imagine our family without Mary Beth. We will press on, because we have to, but the Corey sisters have lost our mentor, our cheerleader, our OG. We love you, Mar.