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Memorials: Santa Cruz Monthly Meeting

Mary Duffield

Date of birth

Aug. 15, 1916

Date of death

Jan. 10, 2015


Santa Cruz Monthly Meeting

Memorial minute

Mary Duffield was born into a family of four children in South Bend, Indiana. Her family moved to California when she was a teenager. Life was hard, and Mary eventually had to run away from her abusive father. She changed her identity and lived in a foster home until she was old enough to enroll in UC Berkeley, where she ultimately earned a teaching credential.

During the Japanese-American internment in World War II, Mary and her friends went to teach at the Manzanar Internment Camp in California. Sickness cost her this job, but she soon applied for another job there as a documentary photographer, her employer this time being the FBI. While her assignment was to record the population of the camp, Mary managed to confiscate extra film and took photos of all the families. In later years, many of these families were thankful because these were the only photos they had of that period. She later recalled the difference between what her camera recorded and what she read about the camp in the media of the time.

After the war, Mary, her husband and their six-month-old child moved to Alaska to "start a Duffield dynasty", homesteading in their self-built log cabin. While there, she taught native Eskimo children in exchange for child care. Contrasting this with her own upbringing, Mary could not help but notice how the parents never seemed to be harsh with their young.

When Alaska homesteading didn't pan out, Mary returned to California with her son, Ted. They lived initially in the San Joaquin Valley, but eventually Mary found work teaching journalism and English at Santa Cruz High School, and boldly assumed her job as single mom. Ted recalls living with his mom in a big Victorian on Bay Street, and their home was always full of family and friends. In recalling her teaching years, Mary remembered fondly taking the school's newspaper editor to Monterey to interview Eleanor Roosevelt. The resulting article appeared on the front page of the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

Two of Mary's many high school students were Ken and David Foster. Through meeting their parents, Ellie and Herb Foster, Mary learned about Quakers, and later joined the Santa Cruz Friends Meeting.

In the late 1970s, Mary met Earle and Akie Reynolds soon after they arrived on their sailboat Phoenix from Japan.  She was led to purchase her own sailboat, the Agua Allegre, which she lived on for 30 years.  This allowed her to expand her work with youth, whom she took on trips as far as Mexico, and to whom she taught navigation and ham radio. Mary believed that by connecting young people with one another across the globe, world peace and understanding would be possible. Both in her teaching and international work with youth, Mary believed in giving all kids a chance to learn and grow, especially those who think "outside the box." When she retired from paying jobs, she donated her boat to the Sea Scouts.

Then living in a mobile home in Santa Cruz, Mary continued to be socially active, volunteering with UNICEF, reading poetry at Elderday and, in the 1980s, going to Nicaragua with Peace Brigades International.  By this time, she had clearly earned her nickname "Planetary Mary". In addition to this nickname, she is well remembered by several statements she cited to describe her personal philosophy of life: "I am trying to provide a better childhood for myself, so that other children's may be better;" "What I wanted to do turned out to be what I ought to be doing;" and "I can never be all I can be until you become all you can be."

Mary died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 98, and is survived by her son Ted, daughter-in-law Melissa, granddaughter Lisa, and great-grandsons Jacob and Justice.