When Chris Sutherland started sorting through her mom’s belongings after her death this year at age 93, she found, among other surprises, 32 broom handles stored in Mary’s neat-as-a-pin Balboa Terrace home.
“My mother just didn’t believe in throwing things out,” Chris said of the late Mary Elizabeth Sutherland. “She was a child of the Great Depression. She always worried about having enough money in old age, and enough to pass on to her two daughters and five grandchildren.” When they met with an attorney in 2012 to review the value of Mary’s estate, “she didn’t believe it,” Chris said. “She didn’t think of herself as a person with wealth.”
“My dad was a professional investor who left her very comfortable when he died in 1994,” she added. Still, when the attorney asked if she would like to leave something to charity, Mary’s first question was, “Can I afford it? Will there be enough for my children and grandchildren?” Assured that there would, she left generous legacies in her living trust to a number of causes, including Catholic Charities.
Described by Chris as elegant, charming, and tough as nails, she kept bouncing back from serious illnesses including pneumonia during her last eight years. The child of Irish immigrants—her father worked as a janitor in San Francisco’s public schools, investing in rental properties on the side—Mary was a proud lifetime San Francisco resident. She graduated from Star of the Sea High School and San Francisco College for Women at Lone Mountain.
After two years as a teacher, she raised her family in St. Emydius and St. Stephen parishes, with her husband, Bruce, a WWII veteran who supported her work for Catholic causes.
Her two daughters raised, Mary cared for her elderly parents, an aunt, her husband, and a brother; all at the end of their lives. “She was the primary caregiver to one aging family member after another,” Chris said, “After my dad died in 1994 and my uncle in 1996, my mother finally found herself with some free time.”
She used much of it as a twenty-year-plus volunteer with Catholic Charities Little Children’s Aid. “It was her love and her passion that any new mother who was low-income and served by Catholic Charities would have all of the clothes, diapers, and other essentials she needed for the start of her baby’s life,” Chris continued. “She spent her free time going to sales at Ross and Target, buying the cutest baby clothes she could find.”
Though Mary’s estate gift to Catholic Charities is undesignated, Chris suspects this child of the Depression would be pleased if it were used to support the kind of work her mother carried out as a member of Little Children’s Aid. Catholic Charities is honored to memorialize Mary Elizabeth Sutherland as a member of its Legacy Circle.