Remembering Mary Esther Dasenbrock
By Gretchen Hall on 03/20/2011 @ 05:30 PM
In this guest post, FCNL General Committee member Gretchen Hall remembers a long-time and influential member of the FCNL community, Mary Esther Dasenbrock.
How can one do justice to the memory of Mary Esther Dasenbrock? She was a special friend not only of mine, but of many. And a special friend and supporter of FCNL. Her spirit and vitality were gigantic while her stature was petite. Mary Esther was a gracious host, a consummate letter-writer and the owner of a sharp and curious intellect.
In her nearly nine decades of living, Mary Esther embraced several organizations that seek to foster learning and change. Her involvement with Haverford College dated from World War II years until the present, with an honorary degree in 2004 -- a special joy when she admitted it! As a young adult, she served in Puerto Rico, Mexico and Poland, drawn to Quaker service and peace-making.
Her commitment to FCNL was a reflection of her desire for a peaceful world along with her practical, hard-headed approach to getting there. She served many years in the ‘70s and ‘80s on the Finance Committee, including a stint as clerk. Perhaps her greatest joy at FCNL was her role on the Search Committee that brought Joe Volk as Executive Secretary. As Joe recalls, “Mary Esther and J. Henry Dasenbrock were great supporters of AFSC and of FCNL. In 1989 when I was at AFSC and considering whether to apply for the Executive Secretary job at FCNL, Mary Esther, who was on FCNL Search Committee, came to Philadelphia to check me out. We had lunch at a funky deli across the street from the AFSC national office.
Mary Esther wasted no time and minced no words. She said, “So, you’ve lived in Philadelphia for 8 years; you are happy here at AFSC; your kids love Germantown Friends School; your wife has a job she likes. I see no reason for you to come to Washington to work at FCNL.” I thought she was going to leave the table right then without finishing her sandwich!
On the contrary, she was just getting started. She simply wanted to underline the point that, if I applied for the FCNL spot, I wasn’t doing so to leave Philadelphia and AFSC. What did I want to achieve by going to FCNL, anyway, she wanted to know.
I told her that I wanted to learn how to translate protest into policy, and she said, “Alright, that’s a good reason.” I think she returned a thumbs up recommendation to the FCNL Search Committee. Thanks to Mary Esther, that committee included me among the several very able candidates. I have her to thank for a wonderful life of public interest lobbying and will always be grateful to her for that.”
As Joe has reported, Mary Esther’s no-nonsense approach to life was her trademark. At her memorial meeting, one Haverford Board member reflected that Mary Esther could raise her eyebrow or shift in her chair to indicate that the speaker was too bombastic and high-flown. And the speaker likely felt admonished! Most messages at her memorial reflected her directness, her willingness to speak forthrightly and plainly so you knew where she stood. Yet she did this without rancor, keeping friends in right and loving relationships.
Have I mentioned that she had a great sense of humor? That she traveled extensively and enthusiastically? That she loved her garden, including the amazing Japanese garden that Henry created after they moved to Quadrangle retirement community in Haverford? Have I made clear that she (and Henry) adored the FCNL interns? About twenty years ago, Mary Esther and Henry established an endowment to help support the intern program; she relished hearing their accounts of life at FCNL.
After many years of service on the General Committee, Mary Esther and Henry retired from FCNL because she “didn’t want to dodder” around the meetings! However, she did return once more, about 3 years ago, with friend Alice Hoffman for a final exposure to FCNL at its best. And she wasn’t doddering!!!