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.

Today the Museum of Natural History draws more visitors than any other in the state system. From its start, Mary Gavin served as a trustee, and when in 1993 she retired from the board, she became the state's first-ever Trustee Emerita. In retirement she continues to lobby the legislature, sometimes past midnight, even this year. She has been active in national and international museum societies, brought a major museum convention to new Mexico, won an award as new Mexico Woman of the Year, written a book about her ranch years, and seen her name attached to a new-found fossil.

Those are some of Mary Gavin's official accomplishments. Her friends describe her in different words: "After a conversation with her, one's spirits can be lifted for days." "No family has had a more profound impact on the museum." "Magical friendship." "Truly one of New Mexico's gems." "She uses the past not as destiny, but as a platform for launching new projects." "A strength deceptive in one so elegant." "Indomitable." "When I lost my husband, Mary was the one. She sat with me the entire night."

As well as this tribute: "Mary is living testimony to staying alive as long as you live."

Story by Richard McCord


Please see Volume 1 for complete text.
Photo ©1997 by Joanne Rijmes