Mary (Capper) Stewart ’56 P86

30 April 2020

Class: 1956

Major: Music

Residence: Seattle, WA

Deceased: April 12, 2020

Alumni survivors: Ms. Kathryn E. Stewart ’86 (Child)

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  • 2020-05-26 19:39:37
    Kathryn Stewart

    Mary Stewart, beloved Pike Place Market citizen, teacher, musician, software designer, and exuberant polymath, died on Easter day at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle. The cause of death was cardiac arrest. Ms. Stewart had fallen on March 4 while walking home from the opera and had been undergoing treatment for serious injuries sustained in the fall. She was 85 years old.

    For three decades Mary was a fixture in the Market neighborhood, well known to many for her kindness, intelligence, wit, and infectious enthusiasm for living. Born in 1934 to schoolteachers Holland and Thelma Capper in Manistee, Michigan, Mary Elizabeth Capper grew up in a family of four children in which scholarship and the arts were both held in high regard. She excelled in both and chose to attend Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. At Carleton she distinguished herself as a promising young singer, including performing as the soprano soloist in the American premier of Francis Poulenc’s Stabat Mater. She met her husband-to-be tenor Ralph Stewart, whilst sitting next to each other in the Carleton concert choir.

    Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in music in 1956, she moved to New York City where Ralph was attending graduate school at General Theological Seminary and spent the year living on 48th Street. There she won a coveted position in the acclaimed 12-voice choir of St. Luke’s in the Village. She attended over 300 concerts that year (lunchtime concerts were in fashion) often volunteering as an usher or getting $1 standing room only tickets, while working as a secretary at The Living Church magazine. Mary and Ralph were married the summer of 1957 and moved to Webster, South Dakota where they began a 29 year partnership of child rearing, music, performing, teaching, and Episcopal liturgical practice that took them to Evanston, IL, Menomonee Falls and Appleton, WI, and finally Seattle.

    While in Menomonee Falls, Mary continued her work for The Living Church as a record critic, reviewing recordings of Contemporary, Renaissance and Baroque sacred music, and joined the company of Milwaukee’s Skylight Opera under the direction of Claire Richardson. Over the years she performed leading roles in many operas, including Prokofiev’s Love For Three Oranges, Virgil Thompson and Gertrude Stein’s The Mother of Us All, Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and Gilbert & Sullivan’s Rudigore. Mary and Ralph created The Stewart Family Troubadours, a family ensemble that performed Renaissance vocal and instrumental music and American Folk music. The concert fees paid for piano lessons for their three children/bandmates.

    Mary began teaching music in the public schools and then, arriving in Appleton, Music & Movement for the Pre-school Child at the University of Wisconsin in Menasha, a field of study and practice close to her heart. She was also, at different times, Head Volunteer Coordinator of Outagamie County, a Mary Kay Beauty Consultant(!), and a teacher to adults who thought they would never learn to sing. During this time the Stewart home (All Saints’ Rectory) was an epicenter of music and fellowship, hosting countless evenings of songs, food, and friends. It was also during this time that Mary sang some of her favorite roles, including the Mother in Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors and Yum Yum in Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado.

    In the process of re-kindling a lifelong love of math during the 70’s, Mary discovered her passion and aptitude for computer programming, and earned a degree in 1985 in computer science from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Having moved to Seattle when Ralph became the rector of St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in West Seattle, Mary accepted a position at Boeing writing code and developing software with an elite team of engineers. Among her many projects, her code was part of the navigational systems of the AWACS radar airplanes and the Poseidon P-8 aircraft. She retired from Boeing in 2000.

    Mary’s range of expertise was as remarkable as her interests were diverse. She was at different times in her life celebrated in her communities as a fabric artist and felter (her felt multi-colored “hands” appeared for months in the windows of Fancy on 1st Ave in Seattle), as a designer (her plant bags became ubiquitous years after her originals had festooned her walls and those of her neighbors), as a gardener and herbalist (she did not bristle at the title “white witch” and her gardens were filled with herbs, vegetables and flowers, so typical of her artistry — flowers could be delicious and vegetables and herbs were beautiful).

    An ardent and vocal feminist throughout her life, Ms. Stewart was a natural, having been raised by Thelma, her Methodist Republican mother who went door to door for abortion rights in the 50’s. Over the years her evolving feminist perspective made traditional patriarchal religion impossible for her. But she remained a deeply spiritual person, constantly discovering new tools for her progress. Her simple thanksgiving grace, that can be said by an assembly of believers, atheists, and everything in between, is such an example. It was, simply: “To Whom it May Concern…Thank you.” Gratitude was indeed her hallmark.

    Mary lived in the historic Sanitary Market Building in Pike Street Market in Seattle, and you could find Mary on almost any day in her beloved neighborhood engaged in conversation with her neighbors and new friends (she made them daily) and at the Seattle Public Library, perhaps her favorite of all places.

    Surviving her are her three children - John (Seattle, WA), Mark (Brooklyn, NY) and Kathryn (New Paltz, NY) - and their families, including five grandchildren, Jay, David, Sarah, Hannah, and Gabriel. Though divorced in 1987, Mary and Ralph maintained a close and supportive bond to her last day. D

    onations may be made in her honor to Planned Parenthood, the Seattle Public Library, or to the Pike Market Senior Center.

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