2001-01-27 / Columnists

On The Beach

By Beverly Baxter

Sometimes one need not know all the details of another person’s life in order to form a fond impression of them. Very often there is a hint of who they really are. It could be there constancy of character, their genuine kindness, or simply the way they conduct their lives that mirrors an extraordinary story and essence of who they are. To me, Mary Tully Dever typifies all that is good in a human being. Her story will clearly confirm to you why The Saint Patrick’s Day Parade Committee will be honoring her as our Deputy Grand Marshal in our Parade on March 3, 2001.
Mary Dever came from a home of great love, deep faith, and lots of laughter. Her parents, Mary Smyth Tully and Michael Tully were born in County Galway. They had taught their three children, Michael and twins, Peggy and Mary, by word and more importantly, by example how important it is to share one’s blessings with others.

Many years ago there was a young man who came from Ireland to solicit funds from friends and relatives to open a Handicapped Center in his native land. Mary’s parents volunteered to organize a benefit dance so that this dream could become a reality. The man was Father Bill Sweeney’s uncle and the Handicapped Center exists today because of his vision and hard work.

Growing up in Astoria, Queens brings back many happy memories. The Tully’s lived in a two-family home where Mr. Tully’s garden was the pride of 49th Street. Mary attended St. Joseph’s Grammar School.

It was during this time that she, along with her brother Michael and sister Peggy took Irish Step Dancing lessons with Professor McKenna. With costumes and dancing shoes, they became part of an international show and performed at Bryant High, School, St. Joseph’s, and at Fordham University. The Tully’s were so proud as they sat in the audience watching their three children do the Three Hand Reel, Jigs, and Hornpipes.

Mr. Tully was a conductor for the N.Y.C Transit Authority, and was very active in the T.W.U. with then President Mike Quill.

Mary has fond memories of growing up in a loving Irish home. The simplest of memories bring the most joy. On Sundays, the kettle was always on to welcome neighbors in for a cup of tea and share in the news from Ireland. Mrs. Tully would take clothes that the children had outgrown, wrap and send them to Ireland to the families back home. It was a clear example of how she lived her life sharing her blessings with others.

Irish Radio Entertainer, Dorothy Hayden, was a regular Sunday night Feature in the Tully home. Mary remembers how her parents would dance in the kitchen, doing the Stack of Barley with the children.

Family gatherings were great events to share our talents with others. Relatives would come from the Bronx and Manhattan; and after great conversation and delicious home cooking, they’d make a circle of chairs and everyone would contribute in whatever the form of entertainment; be it a joke, a poem, or a song, or dance. Dad would recite The Dawning of the Hills of Ireland with perfect elocution and hand gestures. No one would dare utter a sound as Dad kept the family fully mesmerized with his favorite poem. Mrs. Tully would sing while Mary and her brother and sister would do a Jig or Reel and there would be Tom Higgins and Willie Keane on the fiddle and accordian.

During the summers, the Tullys would rent a rooming house in Rockaway. Michael Tully worked in the Bath House which is now St. Camillus parking lot. Mary and Peggy would help their parents sweep the stairs and make the beds to welcome their summer guests.

The Catholic Church was the center of their spiritual and social lives. The Tullys belonged to the Rosary and Holy Name Societies. Mary, Peggy, and Michael belonged to St. Joseph’s Brigade and marched each St. Patrick’s Day in Manhattan. Mr. Tully would would march with the A.O.H. and Mrs. Tully marched with the Ladies division—her first and last time! The family would meet where the parade route ended at 96th Street and Third Avenue where cousin Paddy Kerins owned the Castle Bar. Mary remembers how the family had an apartment over the bar so the relatives had a front row seat!

For Mary, summers in Rockaway were magical. Playland, the St. Camillus Bazaar, and the entertainment all over Irish Town were memories she cherishes of a time gone by; yet she feels so blessed to have experienced and been part of this history. The Tullys would walk up and down B. 103 Street listening to Ruthie Morrissey and Mickey Carton, or marveling at the Step Dancing of Mary and Vincent O’Connor. There was always a sense of tremendous excitement each Memorial Day when the same families and old friends from the Bronx and Manhattan would come down to the same bungalows and rooming houses. It was indeed, The Irish Riviera that we loved so well! Labor Day parties were mixed with happiness and sadness as it marked the end of summer. But then there was always the anticipation of the next year.

Mary attended high school at St. Michael’s Academy. As Vice President of the student body, she was able to become involved in community service projects. It would be the beginning of her very own experience of sharing her blessings with others. Mary feels that the seeds of her love for teaching were planted through her association with the Presentation Srs. Of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Their spirituality and dedicated professionalism inspired her to taake her major in Education at St. Thomas Aquinas College where she received her Bachelor of Science degree in 1965. In 1969, Mary received her Master of Arts Degree in Teaching from the prestigious Manhattanville College. During this time, she taught at St. Michael’s Grammar School, Carmel House Montessori, and P.S. 2 in Manhattan.

In 1971, she met a wonderful man named Jerry Dever at a house party in Oceanside Long Island. Jerry was a social studies teacher at St. Agnes High School in Rockville Center. He shared her passion for teaching. Their initial introduction produced an instant chemistry. After a year long courtship, they were married in St. Joan of Arc in Jackson Heights. It was a marriage made in heaven~! The reception was held at The Astoria Manor with music provided by Paddy Noonan, Noel Kingston, and Richie O’Shea. During their early years of marriage, the Devers shared their blessings by teaching religious instruction from their Belle Harbor apartment to high school students.

On May 10, 1976, their son Michael, the joy of their lives was born.

Michael and his dad had a very special bond. Their relationship was not only that of a father and son, but they were also such good friends. They enjoyed playing tennis together and often, winning matches at the Mill Basin Racquet Club. Michael attended the Gustav Hartman Nursery School and received the best in public education at P.S. 114 and J.H.S. 180 which has been renamed The Gerald R. Dever School.

In 1984, Mary transferred from P.S. 2 to P.S. 47 in Broad Channel where she would often take her students to the public library on East Broadway on the Lower East Side. Through meetings and discussions , a committee was formed for a library facility in Broad Channel. Together with Pat Tubridy, Mary worked with the entire community to make this dream a reality. Whenever Mary passes the Broad Channel Public Library, she is reminded what can be done when the entire community works together for with both students and parents, as well as his colleagues, Mary encouraged Jerry to obtain his second Master’s Degree in Guidance and consider going into the Board of Education. Mary borrowed the needed money from her pension so that Jerry could attend Post University. In 1986, he became a Guidance Counselor at M.S. 180 where he remained until his death in 1998.

In 1988, Mary received her advanced Certificate in School Administration and Supervision. She became involved in community activism as Education Chairperson of the Belle Harbor Property Association. It was during this time that Mary developed an interest in becoming a Reading Specialist. She transferred to P.S 197 in Far Rockaway, working with and tutoring high school students in Reading. She returned to Brooklyn College to receive a third Master’s Degree of Science in Education. Together with her husband Jerry, the Devers became involved in community service projects such as the Walk-a-thon for the American Cancer Society, Beach Clean-ups, collections of food for the Claddagh Inn. Together, with the Rockaway Action Committee and local merchants, we took on many worthwhile projects.

In 1996, Jerry was diagnosed with Melanoma. His one dream was to see his only child, Michael, graduate college. His last and only dream was filled when, from a wheelchair, Jerry was able to attend Michael’s graduation from Providence College. He graduated Cum Laude and was inducted into three honor societies.

On May 25, 1998 Jerry died at St. Ann’s Acute Care Center at Mercy Hospital. Some of the nurses who took care of him were his former students. His love and memory will last for an eternity.

Mary’s journey continues with God’s love and grace. She will be retiring on January 24, 2001 from the N.Y.C. Board of Education after36 years of service. She plans to spend her retirement working at Talor House in Oceanside and St. Paul’s Center in Astoria giving seminars and retreats for people who have experienced pain and loss. She will also be involved at the Pastoral Institute Diocese of Brooklyn for Lay Ecclesial Ministers. She will continue as Education Chairperson for the R.A.C., and will involve public and parochial schools in the Adopt-A-Beach Program.

Mary was recently informed that one of her former students, Rosemary Harnisher, who now attends Stella Maris, wrote a paper on her Role Model, Mrs. Mary Dever. For an educator, Mary is quite touched by the gesture. It reminds her of Mother Teresa’s words, "Each one is a pencil in God’s hands. If we allow God to work in us, what a wonderful world this would be." Mary feels that if she has had a positive impact on the life of one student, then her teaching career has been a success.

Of all her blessings, Mary Dever is so thankful for her family. Through the work of her life and by her example, she has shared with so many her many blessings. The Saint Patrick’s Day Parade Committee is so honored to share with her this well deserved honor of Deputy Grand Marshal.

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