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In Memoriam: Mary Fern

We are saddened to share with you the news that Mary Fern passed away today, peacefully.

For those who did not have the privilege of knowing Mary, she was a beloved faculty member at Cushing from 1967 until her retirement in 1992, when she became an honorary alumna. Longtime faculty family Marcy and Bill Wenning have shared the obituary below, which attests to Mary's cherished place of honor within the Cushing family and to a life so beautifully lived.  She will be deeply missed.  
The Cushing commemoration of her life will take place during Reunion Weekend on June 10, 2017. If you'd like to pay your respects sooner, there will be a graveside service for Mary at 1 pm on Friday, Sept. 16, at Union Cemetery on East Pattagansett Road in Niantic, Conn., and all are welcome.

You may read a tribute to Mary from the Spring 2015 issue of the Cushing Today magazine by clicking here.
Mary Graham Fern died peacefully on August 18, 2016, in Leominster, Massachusetts, with Marcy Wenning at her side. She was 92 years old.

Born on March 18, 1924, in New York, NY, Mary was the eldest of three children born to the Rev. Loyal Young Graham, III, then serving as an assistant at Grace Episcopal Church, and Sara Nanette Stow Graham. In 1930, Rev. Graham was called to be Rector of Christ Episcopal Church, Stratford, CT.  In Stratford, Mary and her siblings enjoyed living in the historic rectory of Christ Church. They spent happy summers at their mother’s cottage at Crescent Beach in Niantic, CT.  As a young adult, Mary starred in plays at Stratford High School, where she was voted “Best Actress” and “Best Politician”.

After graduating from Stratford High School in 1942, Mary attended Barnard College in New York City, where she majored in English and was a leader in the accomplished Barnard drama club, Wigs and Cues, which performed Shakespearean and other historic dramas using an entirely female cast. She graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1946.  Following graduation from Barnard, Mary moved back to Stratford, where she worked at General Electric and, in her spare time, directed and starred in various plays that were performed at Christ Church, including some original works written by her.  

Later, Mary moved back to New York City to work in publishing.  During that time, Mary met her future husband, Burton H. Fern, MD, of Newark, NJ.  The couple was married in 1950 in Stratford in a Christian ceremony performed by her father and later in a Jewish ceremony.  Soon thereafter, the happy couple moved to Florida, where Dr. Fern was the base pediatrician at Orlando Air Force Base. After Captain Fern was honorably discharged from military service following the conclusion of the Korean War, the couple moved to Stratford, where Mary began her teaching career in the public school system and Dr. Fern started a successful pediatric medical practice. Dr. Fern contracted polio in 1955.  In addition to continuing to teach, Mary devoted the next eight years to caring for her husband until he died in January of 1963.

After Dr. Fern’s untimely death, Mary relocated to New Milford, Connecticut, where she pursued one of her many passions, writing.  In 1967, she joined the faculty of Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, teaching English, creative writing, and drama.  She became Chair of the Visual and Performing Arts Department and, as a theatre director, built a thriving program that included both classic plays and original one-acts, which became a signature part of Cushing dramatics. In her later career, she became a college advisor before joining the Alumni Office to work with her much-loved former students. At her retirement in 1992, she was named an honorary alumna. When asked whether she had any children, Mary noted that her standard answer was, "Oh yes. About 5,000 or so." Mary was a truly transformational teacher, and her influence on her students and colleagues as teacher, theater director, mentor and friend is still felt by them today.  She remained greatly loved by her students throughout her life. 

Mary loved to cook, tend bar, and entertain and was always the life of the party. A talented actress with a wonderful memory, she was known for being able to perform songs and poems on the spot, to the enjoyment of all. She was also an extensive world traveler, having travelled on several cruises, including a memorable trip to the Mediterranean on a Greek freighter, to South America, and, in her later years, to England, Scotland and Spain.  

After her retirement from Cushing, Mary moved to Gardner, Massachusetts and enjoyed returning to Cushing for theatre productions, reunions and other events. She was also a long-time member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Gardner, where she sang in the choir and served as a Lay Eucharistic Minister.  During her retirement, she became like a third grandmother to her great nephew, Louis Jacquet, and great nieces, Christina and Elise Jacquet, who, when they were children, would star in mini plays that she wrote and directed. 

Mary relocated from Gardner to Leominster Crossings in Leominster, MA in April, 2014.
Mary is survived by her sister, Sally Graham Jacquet, her nephew, Timothy Jacquet, and her dear friends, Marcy and Bill Wenning, whom she regarded as her second family.  Mary was preceded in death by her husband, Burton, her parents Loyal and Sara Graham, her brother, John C. Graham, and her beloved niece by marriage, Lynn Cherry Jacquet.

The funeral service will be held on Friday, September 16, 2016 in Niantic, CT at 1pm.  Her ashes will be interred in the family plot at Union Cemetery in Niantic.  The family requests that in lieu of flowers memorial donations be made to Cushing Academy. The Cushing commemoration of her life will take place during Reunion Weekend on June 10, 2017. Details will be posted on the Cushing website.

Cushing Academy

39 School Street
Ashburnham, Massachusetts 01430

Cushing Academy

Cushing Academy exists for students and develops curious, creative, and confident learners and leaders. Founded in 1865, Cushing is a co-ed, college preparatory boarding and day school for students in grades 9-12 and PG. Our students, who come from over 30 states and 30 countries, excel in our outstanding academic, art, and athletic offerings. We welcome you to visit our community and beautiful 162-acre campus in Ashburnham, Mass., just one hour from Boston, to experience all that Cushing has to offer.