Remembering the Bread Lady

Jim Day
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For years, Mary Ripley was a familiar and welcome sight delivering up kindness on her bicycle. 

The Bread Lady was in her early 60s when she first rolled into my life.

One day, while still a total stranger to me, Mary Ripley left hanging from my mailbox a delicious loaf of bread that she had baked in her home.

She left no calling card. She did not want recognition or even gratitude for her random act of kindness. She just wanted to do some good and spread some cheer.

That was just Mary's way.

When I later learned that Mary was the goodwill cyclist who pedalled to my door on her old, well-traveled bike, I made a point of tracking her down. She explained she selected my home for the simple reason that my then 11-year-old son Jack, sitting on the front porch humming a tune, caught her attention as she rode by on her bicycle.

"He seemed to have music in him,'' she told me.

Well, Mary seemed to have gold in her heart. I would go on to discover that many others shared this view.

Mary spent more than a dozen years baking thousands of loaves of bread, delivering loaf after loaf to one home or another. She didn't ring the bell or knock on the door, because she did not care to have people gush over her generosity.

She wanted only to give. She did not want to receive. That was just Mary's way.

Even in work, Mary was all about giving. As a caregiver, she gave not only care but also quality companionship and true friendship.

If anything came close to Mary's generous spirit, it was her feisty nature and endless energy.

I would marvel at seeing the 60ish Mary bicycle past my home on a blustery, winter day making her way to work. She also would bike to the store, clutching bags of groceries and her handle bars in her hands.

I offered to drive her to work on those particularly nasty winter days and also to pick up groceries, notably heavy bags of flour that she used to bake bread for others, but she would always decline the offer.

The bike, she would tell me time and again, got her to where she needed to go.

A diagnosis in March 2012 of the beastly progressive, neuromuscular disease ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) was not even enough to leave Mary looking to others for help.

She stubbornly refused my open-ended offers of assistance. And when I brought her some lobster, I unwittingly put her to work. A couple of days later, a bag was hanging from my door containing a loaf of bread, soup and muffins - all made by Mary who was already showing the early effects of ALS.

Mary and her husband, Gary, separated years ago, but they remained legally married and also maintained a unique relationship. Gary stepped up to provide loving care during the final two years of Mary's journey.

But she did not look to others for help. She certainly didn't ask. In fact, she did not enter the hospital until three weeks shy of her death with ALS having already taken a crippling toll on her body and health.

Earlier in her illness, Mary told several people she was determined to take matters into her own hands before the illness became too debilitating. In the end, ALS would end Mary's life.

While Mary surely did not welcome the thought of increased pain and reduced mobility as her disease progressed, I believe she was even more adverse to the idea that as she became more ill, she would need ever-increasing help to get through each of her last days. The need to lean heavily on others simply would not be acceptable to Mary.

She did not want to impose, even out of the necessity of receiving proper care. She just didn't want to be a bother.

That was just Mary's way.

Mary died Sunday at age 64. Family and close friends were gathered at her bedside to say their final goodbyes.

But many who were on the receiving end of Mary's kindness - a goodly number to be sure - did not know this woman was dreadfully ill. They did not have the opportunity to offer their help as many most assuredly would have done.

Surely, a spirited path would have been beaten to Mary's door if a call were put out. Mary, of course, would never hear of it.

Mary wanted to donate her body to science - a final gift from a generous soul. Unfortunately, her body was not accepted.

Out of respect to Mary's firmly stated wishes, there will not be a wake, nor a funeral or even an obituary to mark the end of a marvelous life.

Perhaps, even in death, Mary did not want to burden anyone.

That was just Mary's way.

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Recent comments

  • Lona MacPherson Murphy
    March 02, 2014 - 15:28

    I remember the first time I met Mary when we were in the same class at St Jean Elementary school back in 1964, and we lived across the street from each other. She was whitty, fun to be with, and very vocal about how she felt about things...there was never anything pretentious about Mary....and even as a young teenager, she was the most giving person, and would never hurt anyone no matter what. Unfortunately, Mary had many trials in her life, but faced them head on. She was an inspiration to many. May you find the peace you so greatly deserve , were one of a kind!

  • Cindy Bilbrough (McAleer)
    February 27, 2014 - 23:01

    I can't believe my dear sister Mary is gone from us, so soon. She is much loved and will be sadly missed. Many thanks to all for the kind thoughts and condolences. Special thanks to Jim for this wonderful tribute to my very special sister. She would be very proud--I am sure. Love and appreciation to all family and friends who were there for us during this trying time. Rest in Peace Mary--love always.

    February 27, 2014 - 18:42

    As days pass since my auntie was reunited with cousin Christopher, I find comfort in knowing Mary was so loved by so many. As I sit here and read others kind words, thought, memories of Mary it brings me to reflect on days passed and the so many great memories that Mary and I shared, that will remain near and dear to my heart and will help me deal with this tremendous loss to our family. Thank you all for your kind words and thought. And to those that were there with us in the final days and hours, god bless you.

  • Carol Delaney
    February 27, 2014 - 15:05

    Dear Gary and Jason, We are very shocked and saddened to hear about Mary's passing. We remember all the great times the four of us enjoyed with the four of you. We are so very sorry for your great loss. Carol, Al, Kilby and Jilian

  • Hugo Ramírez
    February 27, 2014 - 13:42

    Mary was the best woman,best mother,best wife,best friend. ! Life is so hard and cruel!!too sad,too sad!! But now she rest in peace. Rest in peace Mary!! Kind lady!! You are forever in my heart!!!

  • Bev
    February 27, 2014 - 13:33

    Mary my special friend with your kindness and love now I know you are a angel Bev Fraser &Family

  • Jason Ripley
    February 27, 2014 - 08:05

    She was the most amazing mom anyone could ever ask for. I have heard people talk about heaven needing another Angel, but being my mom left us, I guess heaven needed the best Angel up there.. I miss you mom xoxoxo

    • Tracy
      February 27, 2014 - 12:11

      Jason she was a sweet sweet lady. She will be sadly missed. xo

  • Freda
    February 27, 2014 - 08:01

    Having lived very close to mary, and been gifted with her wonderful bread, I was shocked and saddened by the news of her death. She will be missed by many.

  • Clara Jean Howard
    February 27, 2014 - 06:57

    Mary was our 'french fry' lady near Victoria, and we stopped as much for her philosophy and outlook, and her doting on our kids, as for the delicious hand cut fries. Mary, I know you've finally arrived in your 'Arruba'.

  • Mary Adams
    February 27, 2014 - 01:18

    I didn't know she was sick my god Ican't believe it we were just talking about her,she use to bring us a loaf of bread if we were not home it would be hanging on the door. God rest in peace Mary, you were an angel on earth now your an angel in heaven.

  • Brynne
    February 27, 2014 - 00:21

    I had the privilege of getting to know Mary and all the Ripley crew many years ago through her son Jason. She had a very kind, honest and caring spirit, and I am so grateful to see this story of such a wonderful person shared with all. My thoughts are with Jason and Gary...

  • Wes
    February 26, 2014 - 20:51

    I had the privilege of living across the street from Mary and our family were recipients of her generosity. Very sadden to hear of her death. RIP Mary

  • Tracy
    February 26, 2014 - 20:41

    Mary, Sweet sweet Mary my neighbor and friend. I too was lucky enough to have met you and felt your good graces. RIP Sweet dear Mary

  • Mary's Way
    February 26, 2014 - 20:33

    Unfortunately I did not have the honor of meeting this very special lady. In this day and age, it is extremely rare to come across someone with so many exceptional qualities; kind, selfless, charitable and humble seem to just scratch the surface. A true role model.

  • Jay Dunn and family
    February 26, 2014 - 20:11

    She and her kindness with be missed. Rest in peace Mary.

  • Patti Costello
    February 26, 2014 - 18:44

    Jim What a wonderful article about a wonderful person. Ive known Mary and Gary for many years and was one of the lucky ones to receive her kind donations of bread, chowder and muffins. May you rest in peace Mary. Our thoughts are with you Jason and Gary. Chris & Patti

  • Bianca
    February 26, 2014 - 18:25

    What a great woman, such a sin, I hope she can now rest in peace. You'll be missed Mary the bread lady❤

  • Gayle
    February 26, 2014 - 17:39

    Mary's maiden name was McAleer

  • Arlene
    February 26, 2014 - 16:08

    Would anyone know Mary's maiden name?

  • Ann Sherman
    February 26, 2014 - 15:43

    Thanks Jim, for a terrific article.