In 1996, I had the great fortune of crossing paths with Mary Hampton while I was working at Cedars-Sinai Health System. I had an enormous task at hand with little or no real answer of how to solve the riddle. I knew we needed a knowledgeable person, a force of nature, a natural born leader, someone curious, a sense of charm and swagger, kind, empathetic and certainly not afraid of the unknown. That fall of 1996, the riddle was solved on an afternoon when Mary walked into the door and she introduced herself.
She was dressed with a purpose, spoke with authentic confidence and we discussed the purpose of our meeting. That purpose became a new role for Mary, an answer to what we needed for our business and a blessing for my life. Our purpose together was much bigger than it began. Our purpose was much deeper than a time card or a deadline. In the 23 years that I have known Mary, she went from a mere stranger in my life, to one of my most trusted confidants my life’s landscape had ever seen. This was the purpose for our meeting.
My early memories of Mary were of course rooted in work. No stranger to controversy, Mary along with a few others made our way through a few rough patches always coming out of the other side either a little happier or a bit torn but never dismantled. As she was no stranger to heartache and hard times, she used to say that anything related to work was a walk in the park. If things got a little dicey she used always joke by saying, “don’t let me reach for my bag”. I for one never knew what she meant by this other than we got to wrap this issue on up.
I remember Mary at company and social parties. I will leave that alone but suffice to say, she was not shy about dancing, drinking, singing and having an all-out good time. Company parties or personal parties, there was no variation in this sheer joy. I had the pleasure of having her attend my 40 birthday party a number of years ago. It had been the first time she had experienced a celebration that entailed a few things that she had not seen and there was always a mention about it long after the last laugh was made so many years ago. She was meticulous in her memory of that evening and would often ask me about our hosts and how they were doing. I was happy that she was a part of that experience.
Hedyeh Khalili another dear friend hosted a summer pool party one day. That hot summer day was filled with belly laughing fun with strangers and stories of days gone by. However, that particular day was one where my personal heartache became overwhelming but Mary had a way of easing my pain, maintaining her empathy, understanding that she could not fix my sadness but that instead was here with me so that I didn’t walk this journey on my own.
Describing Mary’s personality has such range. At times shy at times Chris Rock. At times focused, philosophical, nurturing, and protective like most grandmothers. At times, all out camp. But always present. We spoke to each other as siblings and friends. We often said to one another “I see what you’re saying”. She was independent soul and thinker but open to new ideas. Our bond was solid and strong enough to overcome our disagreements which were few. In the weeks leading to her time away from us, she was still dispensing her wonderful encouragement to me with this simple phrase “continue to find your voice”. These are the words of a coach and an advocate.
These last 10 years had been especially difficult for me and Mary never missed a step to help me through those times. She too had fallen on some concerning moments mostly circling around work. She and I would spend countless hours as she conveyed her thoughts on the day’s challenges from her corner of the world at the Plaza Suites. Never a dull moment at the Plaza Suites and I am grateful that she was able to call it “home” for small while.
Mary’s curiosity continued to evolve through these last few years and we had a debriefing each night after work which went something like this:
- “What’s shakin? What’s crackin? What’s going on?”
- “You have to go to Calabasas today? You goin’ tomorrow?”
- “Did you hear what Trump did today? There’s somethin wrong with that man”
- “Did you getcha something to eat? Get one of them bowls again from Ralphs? I’ve gotta try me some”
- “How’s my man Scott? What? Oh man I was pullin for him. What about the doctor? The attorney? The architect? Oh no matter someone may come along that’ll stick around when you ain’t lookin'”
- “How’s Frida? That cat is a panther, no way I’m getting near her”
- “You catch my man Federer? Gonna watch any more of the matches”
- “You watchin the game tonight? Laker’s on”
- “Did you catch Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo (they both fine)”
- “You catch that car chase. What’s with these muther…?”
- “You goin’ out town? Is it rainin’ there?”
Every day at 6:00 p.m., our evening began with those basic questions and sometimes, the conversations would lead to hours of chatting from politics to crashes to the atrocities of the world we occupy. In all of this, Mary didn’t lose her faith in herself to overcome adversity, her faith in our friendship, her faith in the bonds with her closest friends and her faith that sooner or later something would come along that was bigger than this life. She lived one day at time. But beginning in early May, a sudden unexpected series of events began to unfold:
- On May 2nd, I had what turned out to be our final debriefing.
- On May 3rd, evening time, no answer, but not surprising, it was a Friday night after a long week.
- May 4th, no answer. I knew something was wrong when on May 6th, my phone calls had not been picked up, messages not returned. I sent Mary a text “Where are you, I haven’t heard from you”
- Soon the ringing stopped. Voice Mail only.
- May 8th text, “Ok, now this is really weird. I haven’t been able to reach you in like 4 days!”
- Then disconnection.
I was panicked and reached out to Hedyeh and we began brainstorming as to what could have happened and more importantly what to do. It was our connection to Cedars-Sinai again that provided us an answer. A co-worker of ours worked at the same company and on May 9th, Hershell Holcombe relayed the news. I went to visit her as soon as I could and spent a number of afternoons by her bedside. In a turn of irony, I had had a brush with death over 3 1/2 years ago, and Mary was at my bedside. I now sat with the same view that she did and hoping that this was all a nightmare and that it would have a happy ending, a bump in the road of life. But alas, this was not part of the greater plan.
It has been several weeks since Mary took off to place unknown to us. I have had to manage a void that I was not prepared to address and it is surreal. In 2016, both my mother and my father passed away just months apart. I for one had anticipated that one day they would not be with me but even as a kid, I never thought of my parents as dying or departing. But as an adult, I knew that day would come and I miss them everyday.
But Mary’s departure is different. I was completely unprepared for this overwhelming void. It is an era where we are ready in some respects to say good bye to our elders, but we are never ready to say goodbye to our best friends. We were supposed to grow old together and bitch about the weather, politics, men, dating and dinner options.
Mary is one of my touchstones. She is my rebel heart. She is my champion. She is my inspiration to do a little better each day. She is one of my true friends. I hear sirens each day and wonder if we would have been talking about that and it be included in our recap of the news later that day. So for now, I will have to wait to another time to visit those subjects. Mary used to say “we all have that final appointment to the doctor”. So until I have my appointment, meet my parents, Whitney, George Michael, Marvin, Doris Day and everyone we talked about that passed on and share those stories from your time here.
Until then, visit us sometime. I love you and miss you everyday and I will always think of you at 6:00 p.m.