Small Town Girl, Big Time Communicator
A young fireman on a fund drive in North Everett approached a little lady out sweeping her front porch. She asked bright pertinent questions, was kind, reassuring and happy to donate. However, by the time he walked away, he had volunteered to help raise money for her latest cause, the Imagine Children’s Museum. He had met a veteran fund-raiser, Mary Webb Duryee.
Born in 1918, Mary Webb was the only child of “O.T.” and Mandy Webb, whose modest house stood in a North Everett neighborhood where everybody knew everybody. Back in the early 1920s Mary could be found sweeping the porch of her back-yard playhouse or fixing sandwiches for the neighborhood kids; she hated being an only child, but not one to brood, surrounded herself with friends. School gave her more friends and bigger groups to organize, and in the eighth grade she won a Rotary Achievement Award. The awards luncheon proved to be a watershed event in her life: her interest in people had led her to community service, and she met Daniel Duryee Sr., who would one day be her father-in-law and real estate mentor.
Mary’s father, O.T. Webb, an Everett attorney, instilled in her a desire to take initiative, work hard and appreciate what she had. The Webbs were Norwegian immigrants from Wisconsin who had come to the Everett/Lowell area by boxcar in 1899. O.T’s sisters (Mary’s aunts) all had put themselves through nursing school. He had worked his way through University of Washington Law School, graduating in 1905. O.T organized and became Grand Lodge President of the local branch of Scandinavian Fraternity of America (SFA) and often gave long speeches encouraging members to help the needy, respect women, and be kind to mothers! Mary often accompanied her father to SFA events, such as a picnic in June 1930 where she heard him give one of his rousing speeches to 600 Scandinavians. She was embarrassed when he introduced her to people as his “promising daughter”, but it also made her realize he had great confidence in her.
Mary was a natural leader. Like her father, she had a knack for public speaking. But leadership itself was not her goal, she just wanted to be INVOLVED. She was President of her 9th grade class, and later Everett High School Girl’s Club president, but her 1935 commencement speech was titled “The Homemaker”. Mandy, Mary’s mother, the daughter of Swedish immigrants, had had little education herself but it was she who made sure Mary learned to sing, dance, speak in public, sew, cook, garden, and, of course—entertain, important in the world of organizing community functions.
At the University of Washington, Mary seriously considered a degree in law, something much promoted by her father. But the depression was in full swing and the five year law course was expensive. Instead, she majored in history, became president of her sorority and in 1938 represented her sorority at their national Convention. After college, Mary moved home, enrolled in Mrs. Rogers’ Business School and got a job at a bank.
Her marriage in 1941 to Dan Duryee, Jr. was the beginning of a great partnership, a love affair that lasted until his passing in 1990. When they married, Mary was welcomed into an “old” family, which had been in this country for 8 generations, and included women of great strength and character. One of Danny’s grandmothers, a single parent and businesswoman, had staked a claim in Alaska during the Gold Rush. His other grandmother, an Everett pioneer, well-educated for her time, had been a founding member of the Everett Women’s Book Club back in 1894. And Mary had suddenly acquired siblings: Danny’s two dynamic and creative older sisters.
In return, Mary cherished her role as Mrs. Dan Duryee Jr. In Danny, she had found a soul-mate: both found PEOPLE endlessly fascinating. Like Mary, Danny was an early-riser, a list-maker, problem-solver, and good organizer; like Danny, Mary loved children, animals, sentimental movies, popular music, dancing, and bringing people together. They were both absolutely committed to Everett and exceptionally unselfish and low-profile about their good works.
Dan and Mary were just beginning their lives together when Pearl Harbor was bombed and the United States entered World War II. Assuming he would be drafted, Dan asked Mary to join the staff of the family company, D.A. Duryee and Co., learn the real estate business, and get the credentials to run the company. Thus, in 1942, Mary became one of the first women in Washington State to have her own real estate license and, at age 24, when Danny joined the army, she began coordinating every aspect of the business.
Real estate was very different then from what it is now. Multiple Listing Service and office computers didn’t exist. She opened and closed the office seven days a week, inspected property, showed houses (being careful not to compete with the veteran salesmen), wrote and posted ads, handled escrow, banking, payroll, rents, bills, repairs, and leases, and loyally chauffeured her father-in-law.
She gave pep talks to boost morale and mediated staff, tenant, and family dramas. But, somehow, she found time to read and answer the long, detailed letters her husband wrote during the war…love letters of a unique kind because they focused on Everett, on the challenges Mary faced, and on their future together.
Mary adored her father-in-law, Daniel Sr. and while working along side him during the war years, she learned as much about community service as she did about real estate. Dan Sr. had grown-up with the town, graduated from EHS in 1898, and personally helped rescue the struggling YMCA in 1900. He understood and actively supported the town’s backbone of human services. In his quiet, hard-working way, Dan Sr helped Mary see how much a single individual could contribute to strengthening a community.
When Dan returned home in 1946, Mary handed over the big stack of nearly completed contracts that happened to be on her desk and became “the Homemaker”. Within a year, Dan Sr had passed away, Mary was pregnant, and Danny was reinvigorating his company; DA Duryee & Co went on to grow and prosper for 50 more years, but Danny used to say of the war years: “we couldn’t have done it without Mary”. She gladly became a full-time housewife, and then Mom to her two daughters, but she was never really out-of-the-loop of her husband’s working life. She had enjoyed the action of real estate, its potential for meeting people’s wants and needs, and for several decades she kept her real estate license current…..just in case.
While Danny worked 12 to 15-hour days both at his office and with various community boards, Mary kept her desk at home piled high with to-do lists, agendas, and her ever-growing card file of names. Like many others, she began soliciting door- to- door for Children’s Orthopedic Hospital and then worked with their North Everett Guild for many years. She served for 13 years on the YMCA board, worked as fund-raiser and board member for UGN (later United Way) and helped organize and run her church bazaars, for which she’d spoon 10-gallon kettles of mincemeat into jars every November for decades. She was a life member of the Children’s Foundation at Everett General Hospital, organized many charity auctions and fund-raisers for the local Junior Club and supported Volunteers of America and Campfire USA. A highlight of her life was her decade as Campfire group leader for each of her daughters. “Miss Mary” held meetings in a cabin-like room above her garage. It had plain wooden floors, an upright piano, a big table for art projects and a special row of coat hooks, each with a little girl’s name on it. While it may have felt like a “play-room”, one wall was also covered with a big map of the world, and while Mary wanted the girls to find fun and friendship, her primary goal was to teach them to be responsible. She was just as comfortable helping the shy Campfire girl earn her first service beads as she was when speaking to a big crowd at a charity banquet.
Mary continues to live just three blocks from the house where she was born. Her own Everett Women’s Book Club group, now down to eight women, has been meeting regularly since 1947. Her Campfire girls stay in touch and still call her “Miss Mary”. She quietly supports many charities and non-profits around town, including the Emma Yule Society. However, when the opportunity came to help organize support for the Imagine Children’s Museum in the early 1990’s, she put on her old walking-shoes, and went, with cane, to the meetings, thrilled once again, to be making lists and stuffing envelopes.
In September 2007, at the United Way Spirit of Snohomish Co Breakfast, Mary was given the Reeves/Sievers Award for Lifetime community service. The keynote speaker that day, Lou Tice, said about people like Mary: “You can’t control how much you get, but you can control how much you give.”
Sources: Personal remembrance and family photographs, Maureen Duryee.
© 2008 Maureen Duryee All Rights Reserved