About 50 friends and relatives trickled into the American Legion Duby Reid Post #30 on Fourth Street, each with a story to tell or a memory to share with others who knew Wilson. Members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and various other union affiliates were in attendance.
Wilson died of cancer on June 10 at age 66.
Lonnie Feemster, president of the Reno/Sparks NAACP branch, remembered Wilson for her determination to help others.
“I met Mary about 15, 16 years ago when she got involved with the local NAACP branch here,” Feemster said. “She was real gung-ho with getting involved in civil rights. She wanted to help people in the civil rights movement in northern Nevada, whether it be the black, Latino or other population.”
Wilson, who was born in Palo Alto, Calif., suffered from osteoporosis, agoraphobia and other conditions that left her debilitated throughout her life. But everyone who spoke to her character said she didn’t let her impairments inhibit her spirit. She sat on the board of directors for the ACLU from 1995 until 2010.
Richard Siegel, president of the ACLU from 2000 until 2010, described Wilson as a consummate activist.
“She’d be in a wheelchair, crutches, and still show up to almost every meeting,” Siegel said. “She went above and beyond the call of duty. … It was nice to have someone like Mary, to have such a positive force of nature working to keep things as they should be.”
“She couldn’t leave the house, but she was always on the phone,” Feemster said. “She kept giving until she had nothing else to give.”
Wilson’s preoccupation with giving was a trait many speakers described during the memorial. Awards from Sen. Harry Reid and President Bill Clinton honoring Wilson’s community service were displayed on a table at the back of the hall, attesting to her selflessness.
Rev. Sean Savoy of the International Community of Christ detailed briefly Wilson’s life at the memorial, touching on her protest of the Vietnam War while attending Fullerton College to her marching with César Chávez while living in Southern California.
Spike Valencia, Wilson’s brother, read a poignant first-person story written by his sister’s longtime partner, John Keim, about their relationship. Keim stood nearby, his eyes closed, too emotional to speak on his own. Valencia called upon the audience to adopt his sister’s motivation in their own lives.
“She was committed to the things she believed in,” he said. “That’s leadership. That’s what we all need to step up to do.”
Wilson will be inurned in the Garden of Peace at Mountain View Cemetery in Reno.