Death is final. Memories are not. They become stories that bind families and communities.
You can still envision and feel the essence of the person who walked this earth and impressed an emotional footprint upon the lives of those honored to know him or her. Fond memories may fade, but not vanish.
A somber lead to this weekly column? Maybe. But one that captures, I hope, the impact of the deaths within recent weeks of John Ford and Mary Mason. They were important to the Easton community, each in a vastly different, but meaningful way.
Stricken by a stroke in mid-November 2019, succumbing three months later, Ford was a steady political presence as president of the Easton Town Council. He worked for 29 years at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. He also served on non-profit boards.
At a celebration of life ceremony that filled most of the Easton High School auditorium the past Saturday morning, common themes of integrity, deliberateness, compassion and selfless service to the community in which Ford was raised rang forth among the 11 speakers.
Another attribute was front and center: Ford’s ability to listen and learn. He perfected this trait. Many of us are so eager to talk about ourselves, we pay scant attention to others. John Ford consciously and conscientiously listened before feeling the need to respond.
One of the speakers said that he initially was angry at God for taking away Ford at his “prime.” Then, he reconsidered his pique at God and felt thankful for having the chance to know and like Ford and live with fond memories.
Who of us has not railed at God for what appears to be impetuous, hurtful decisions to remove from our midst truly good and giving people? When we look around and assess those who cross our paths—some who do little to improve our fragile world–we resent the haphazard manner in which God seems to yank special people from Planet Earth.
Praise and admiration for a man who loved his family and friends and added value to his community filled the auditorium. Smiles accompanied tears.
Last Thursday at Christ Church, Easton, the Mason family paid homage to their recently deceased mother, Mary, and their father, Frank, who died in 2009. Son Frank delivered a moving and often humorous portrait of their parents. Remembrances of lives lived well outweighed the inherent sadness of this funeral service.
Mason’s, a terrific restaurant once ensconced at 22 South Harrison Street, was Mary’s creation. At its prime, it had a thriving lunch business featuring unforgettable sandwiches. Its dinners were reliably tasty. The service was excellent.
Mary also operated a successful catering business. She and her son Matt (Frank handled the “books”) ran a wonderful business; in many ways, Mason’s was a community meeting place, comfortable and hospitable.
Frank’s eulogy painted a picture of a determined mother who moved to Easton, her husband’s family home, destined to establish a restaurant, and so she did. She painted the building yellow despite a subsequent uproar. She persisted in a business that demands constant attention.
When I looked around Christ Church, I saw a diverse crowd filled with people who had worked for Mary and Matt. They remained loyal to Mary Mason and her family.
Stories abound about the always friendly and gregarious Frank Mason. He loved to engage people in conversation on a variety of subjects. I learned the other day that Frank gave my daughter a free piece of chocolate as she walked home from elementary school. Mason’s had a chocolate counter without parallel in Easton. Kate was fortunate to be the recipient of Frank Mason’s generosity.
I recall doing some yard work in front of our home on Harrison Street when Frank pulled up to curb to engage me in military matters. His father served in the New York National Guard. Frank was knowledgeable and inquisitive.
What I took away from two disparate funeral events was the intoxicating nature of life in “Our Town,” the title of an award-winning play about a fictional town in New Hampshire that grapples with life, longing and grief. Our town of Easton offers friendship, warmth, activities and generosity. Its people are the linchpin.
John Ford exemplified a person driven to serve his constituents, whether they were his fellow employees at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum or residents of Easton. Mary and Frank Mason literally served their customers and friends, while providing people with an inviting place to gather and eat.
I’m not angry, God. I’m disappointed; your “plan” sometimes seems unfair and arbitrary. We all have to live with that jarring reality.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.