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Mary Louise Hancock’s life was full of laughs, right to the end

  • Debby Butler and her sons Ben (left) and Alex Savard take their turns at the microphone during a celebration of life in honor of Mary Louise Hancock at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Concord on Saturday. Hancook died on Dec. 4 at the age of 97. Elizabeth Frantz photos / Monitor staff

  • A celebration of life was held in honor of Mary Louise Hancook at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Concord on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017. Hancook passed away on Dec. 4. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Dennis Murphy recounts stories of Mary Louise Hancook during a celebration of her life at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Concord on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017. Hancook passed away on Dec. 4. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Bob Fortier shares stories about Mary Louise Hancook during a celebration of her life at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Concord on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017. Hancook passed away on Dec. 4. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Juliana Eades talks about Mary Louise Hancook during a celebration of her life at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Concord on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017. Hancook passed away on Dec. 4. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • ABOVE: Former governor John Lynch (right) and his daughter, Julia, tell stories of Mary Louise Hancock during a celebration of her life at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Concord on Saturday.



Monitor columnist
Sunday, December 10, 2017

Susan Colwell set the tone Saturday inside the local church.
“She called me a fat-ass more than she called me my name,” Colwell said.

Welcome to the tribute held for Mary Louise Hancock, five days after her death at age 97. The tissue boxes spread across the pews were needed, sure, but laughter trumped crying at the Unitarian Universalist Church, and Hancock wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

We saw it early and we saw it often, as a lineup of friends and family recalled Hancock, the lifelong Democrat and pioneer who charmed Hillary and Bill Clinton, called former governor John Lynch a close friend, and treated everyone the same, no matter their societal status.

“The celebration will go on and continue in conversation and song,” Colwell said. “I loved Mary Louise Hancock, and best of all, I know she loved me.”

But while those words were touching, Colwell made sure we knew that Hancock would nudge her in the ribs to get her attention. Hancock, we were reminded, was the comical, colorful character who showed the city never to take politics, or life, too seriously.

Even Lynch and his daughter Julia got in on the act, reciting a comedy sketch that would have made Abbott and Costello proud.

“She trashed talk beating me at cribbage starting when I was 7,” Julia said, standing alongside her father. “She’d wiggle her fingers like she was putting a curse on me.”

Hancock cast a spell on a lot of us, in ways that spread beyond humor and moved into inspiration.

She was the first woman from Concord elected to the state senate. She was the New Hampshire state planning director for 16 years. She fought for the underdog, serving on countless local, state and national boards and committees, while advocating for seniors, the poor and people with disabilities.

But those who spoke on her behalf chose to skip most of that stuff, preferring to mix elements of Hancock’s loyalty with her edgy sense of humor.

They left it to the obituary and news story in the Monitor last week to address her achievements. This was a time to remember Hancock’s sarcasm, her bite, her loosey- goosey personality that often surfaced after a belt of whiskey.

Dennis Murphy, a friend, said Hancock had an uncanny way of connecting with young people during the turbulent 1960s. He recalled the manner in which Hancock related to his daughter, Meg, saying she spoke to her like she’d speak to an adult.

Then came the cat story. The one about Gracie, who had digestive problems. “I’m so glad to see you,” Hancock would say to Murphy.

“Okay, Mary,” he’d respond, “where did Gracie throw up?”

And there was the time Hancock slipped and dislocated her shoulder while Murphy was visiting, then told the medical assistant at the hospital that Murphy had pushed her.

Bob Fortier, a great nephew, loved sleepovers at Hancock’s because “There were no rules. You could watch anything on TV as late as you wanted.”

He took a puff of his first and last cigarette at Hancock’s house, and he brought his fiancée there to meet his great aunt, to which Hancock told him, “Bobby, don’t marry them; just sleep with them.”

Good friend Juliana Eades marveled over the home health care Hancock had received during the end, then, with a wry smile, looked straight at Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and mentioned that funding for this vital service was lacking.

It was that kind of day, when even someone like Shaheen could be sucked into the fun.

Debby Butler and her sons, Ben and Alex Savard, spoke, too, with Butler making sure that Colwell knew Hancock had never mentioned anything about her derriere (“Sorry, Susan”), and reading a personal letter from Hillary Clinton.

“Feisty,” Clinton called Hancock.

Things turned serious, of course. Ben Savard, who had flown in from Minnesota, began with, “Mary Louise Hancock was the greatest person I ever knew.”

Then Savard knocked it out of the park, revealing that he had eaten dinner with Hancock shortly after being diagnosed with Type I diabetes. He was 16 and said Hancock lifted his spirits. A second mother, he called her.

“I could and would handle it,” Savard said Hancock told him, adding, “I must work to be the person she believed me to be, and I will try.”

The tissues came in handy at that point, but make no mistake, the funny memories overwhelmed the sense of loss here.

Right to the end, when most of her spirit had been zapped, when her voice had been subdued, when she appeared pale and listless, Hancock went down swinging.

“I saw her two days before she died,” Fortier said. “I asked permission to stroke her hair. I asked what would happen if she went to heaven and found out it was full of Republicans. ‘I’ll just have to change them,’ she told me calmly.

“Her life made me so happy.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com.)