Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Mary Gavin

Mary B.


Honored October, 2003

Mary B. Gavin

Not every New Mexican has a rare fossil named for her, but Mary Gavin does. Not every New Mexican made a new museum happen, but Mary Gavin did—and saw it become the most-visited museum in the state system.

Not every "coed" was both an active pilot and captain of the women's polo team in college. Not one person, before Mary Gavin, was ever designated a Trustee Emerita by a New Mexico governor.

These are just some of the ways that Mary Gavin, now a Living Treasure, is unique.
She first came to New Mexico (which was not yet a state when she was born almost 90 years ago, in 1951, with her husband, Edward, a U.S. Air Force colonel and a pilot, assigned to the Kirtland base in Albuquerque. Ten years later they settled onto their Pecos River Ranch, where for 18 years they raised their children and raised cattle and horses. A son became a geologist, and then got his parents hooked on paleontology.

Their first effort in this field was simply to try to keep here in New Mexico some of the remarkable fossils discovered in the state. Previously, all such fossils had been sent off to collections elsewhere. Soon the Gavins were leading the cause for a big, permanent Museum of Natural History, to be located in Albuquerque. After four unceasing years of work by the Gavins, the Legislature funded the museum in 1980, by a single vote.