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In Memory: Mary Steinhardt

posted Jul 11, 2016, 11:28 AM by Ned Peirce   [ updated Jul 11, 2016, 11:30 AM ]

Mary (Etzler) Hawks Steinhardt, 93, of Roanoke, Virginia, and Hancock Point passed away from natural causes on Friday, June 24, at Brandon Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Roanoke. She was affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Roanoke.

Mary was born in Mount Airy, North Carolina, on November 26, 1922, oldest child of Ruth Etzler Hawks and Howard Washington Hawks of Lambsburg, Virginia.  She was predeceased by her parents and by her two brothers, Howard Warren Hawks and Richard Eugene Hawks.  Mary received her Bachelor of Science degree from Virginia Polytechnic Institute, class of 1944, and was one of the first women admitted to the school.  While still an undergraduate, she addressed the Virginia Legislature on the value of coeducational education.  She also received a Master of Arts degree in Psychology from Hollins College in 1967, writing her thesis on language acquisition in infants. For many years, she taught developmental psychology and early childhood education at Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke, where she was known to be a committed and inspiring teacher. She was tireless in pursuing the well-being of children in Virginia and was recognized for her work by the Governor of the Commonwealth and by the Virginia Association for Early Childhood Education.

Mary was active politically, especially as a member of the League of Women Voters in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and in Roanoke, where she served on multiple boards for a variety of civic groups. She is also remembered for her role as a supportive and hospitable faculty wife when her husband, Ralph Steinhardt, taught chemistry at Hollins. They met and fell in love at VPI, where they shared a joie de vivre that lasted until Ralph's death in 1994.  Mary also worked briefly at the library at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where Ralph had served during World War II on the Manhattan Project.

Mary was a distinguished cook and reader, passing these affections happily to her children.  She enjoyed music passionately, looking forward especially to the annual Bach Festival in Bethlehem.   She and her family most enjoyed sharing a summer house in Hancock Point, where her infectious wonder and appreciation for the natural world found much to rejoice in, a quality she maintained until the very end. It was here that her natural talent as hostess and cook found time to flourish, as friends from far and wide came to spend time on the wide front porch, and to share the conviviality of Ralph and Mary's hospitality.  They were brought here by Louise and Lamar Crosby. It was Louise who chose the house on Haskins Road for them to buy. Coming to Maine in the summertime came to be the time she could most indulge her generous impulses as matriarch, colleague and friend.  After Ralph's death, she found time for her lifelong desire to garden, and established a lovely one that brought her, her family and passersby great joy.  It still does.

Those who knew her best will remember her for a brilliant mind, a sympathetic heart, and an eye and an ear for beauty They will also remember her habitual farewell, “Be careful crossing the Hudson!” and her observation late in life that “we live in a wondrous world!” She will be joyfully remembered and sadly missed by her survivors:  her daughter Theresa Ruth and her husband Walter B. Neilsen-Steinhardt; her daughter Sarah Jean Steinhardt, her husband David Turkheimer, and her daughter, Anna Ruth Cantor; her son Ralph Gustav Steinhardt, his wife Donna Scarboro, and their children, Ruth Jackson Steinhardt and Ralph Gustav Steinhardt Jr.; as well as her beloved sisters-in-law, Kathleen Joan Culbreth Hawks and Louise Myers Hawks, and many nieces and nephews and their children.

There will be a memorial service at the Hancock Point Chapel on August 14, 2016 at 5 p.m. followed by one in Roanoke, VA, on September 24, 2016, at a venue to be determined later. Following the service, her remains will be interred with those of her husband in Lambsburg, Virginia. Mourners wishing to remember Mary may donate to the Frenchman Bay Conservancy (frenchmanbay.org)  the Bach Choir of Bethlehem (bach.org) or to the Mary and Ralph Steinhardt Fund (Science Seminars) through Hollins University (hollins.edu).

The family would like to thank their many friends and family for their kind expressions of comfort at this difficult time.