Mary Dudley is a busy, organized and practical woman, who has spent most of the last 30 years working as a paralegal in upstate New York. She’s lived and worked on Shelter Island for three-and-a-half years, and three weeks ago was sworn in as the newest Town Board member, after being selected unanimously from a field of nine.
Oh, she also bakes her own bread.
And although she likes to run a tight ship in the home she shares with her fiancé Arthur Luecker, a local builder, several times a day all hell breaks loose at feeding time.
Mary doesn’t just adopt dogs, she rescues them, and her kind of dog ownership is an extreme sport, “When it’s time to feed them, everyone is barking and running around,” she said.
“These guys were lab dogs,” she added, introducing two aged beagles named Pumpkin and Sherman. Gretchen is a potato-dumpling of a dachshund, 15 years old and entirely unaware of her advanced age. Nick is a four-year-old retired racing greyhound with heart-melting brown eyes.
“I’ve had seven rescued greyhounds over the years,” Mary said.
As for things with wings, Mary is also an enthusiastic bird watcher, with four feeders fully stocked “and I make my own suet.”
She plans to start raising chickens in the yard.
Mary grew up in a large family in Syracuse, spending summers at her grandparents’ cabin on Sandy Pond, a bay off Lake Ontario. With a tribe of cousins, nieces and nephews, Mary fished off the dock, took out the rowboats and picked raspberries.
Her father, Robert, was a metallurgical engineer and her mother, Anne, worked for Bristol-Myers, eventually rising to become an executive of the company. Mary is the third of seven sisters, one living in Syracuse, one in Rochester, one in Mississippi, one in Florida and two in New Jersey.
A lifelong lover of animals, she studied animal husbandry in college and thought at first she would work with horses doing barn management, breeding and riding lessons. But after teaching riding for a time, she changed direction. “It’s a difficult field to get into,” she said, “and my friends who did break in lived in trailers at the barn.”
Mary’s first husband worked for McDonnell Douglas, an aerospace manufacturing company. In 1981 the couple moved to Saudi Arabia where he worked teaching members of the Royal Saudi Air Force how to maintain the F15 Eagles the kingdom had just purchased from the United States.
For four years, Mary lived with the spouses and families of other expatriate Americans in a large apartment complex with workout rooms, a swimming pool and a bus to take them to the area’s lone grocery store.
Inside the compound, Mary could wear jeans, but outside, the Saudi idea of female modesty was the rule. Women could not drive and had to wear an abaya or a long skirt. “There were religious police,” Mary said, “and they would hit you with a stick.”
“It’s a completely different way of life, very enclosed,” she added. She described riding down a street of private homes, lined with walls 12 feet high to preserve the privacy of the residents.
Alcohol was forbidden, but inside the compound it was DIY and the grocery store was well stocked with the sugar and concentrated grape juice needed for winemaking. “For New Year’s Eve once we went to Bahrain because you could drink there,” Mary said.
Every six months they were able to travel outside Saudi Arabia and Mary and her husband made two-round-the-world trips during those leaves, visiting the Arctic Circle by train and spending a week in Japan.
By the late 1980s she was single again and moved back to Syracuse. She began a career as a paralegal and over the years worked at a variety of law firms, mostly doing litigation work, along with some real estate and estate planning. For a decade starting around 2001, she worked for a pair of trial attorneys, both senior partners who she described as “high-demand, well-respected litigators” and “curmudgeons.”
When she was in her 20s, Mary had spent three summers working at Johnny Appleseed, a children’s summer camp in New Hampshire, and over the years she occasionally thought of the extremely hirsute guy from Yonkers named Arthur, who worked there too. In the late 1970s, Mary and Arthur were friends.
Thirty years later, something inspired Mary to find him, which she did through a mutual friend. When they spoke on the phone, Mary said she immediately remembered his voice, and when they met she determined he hadn’t changed a bit, even if the volume and configuration of his hair had. This time they were both single. “Go figure,” said Mary. “We just had to ride time until it happened.”
Arthur had been living on Shelter Island for decades and at his invitation, Mary drove down from Syracuse for the Beach Blast in September 2011 — her first Island experience. “I had to Google it,” she said. Soon Arthur traveled to Syracuse so Mary could show him how she lived. “I took him creek walking,” she said. “A lovely day hiking in the water and around the waterfalls.”
They decided to make a go of it on the Island, where Arthur’s business is established. Mary took a job at Daniel Gale as an administrative assistant. “I had this immersion in Shelter Island real estate,” she said. “The issues, what people have to do to sell property and property values. It was a very nice job.”
She also joined the Fire Department Auxiliary in 2012 and has remained active, helping with the chicken barbeque, the egg hunt and other events.
Between Mary’s appointment as councilwoman and their engagement, the couple is congratulated by almost everyone they meet. Arthur confessed to occasional confusion as to which event the congratulators meant. They had to expedite the announcement of their plan to marry when it almost appeared in the Reporter before the couple had notified all of Mary’s sisters.
Mary admitted that although she hoped to be chosen to fill the spot on the Town Board created by the resignation of Ed Brown, she was surprised. “I didn’t expect it would go anywhere,” she said. “But I told Jim Dougherty, ‘There is a moving train and I’m trying to jump on.’”
She felt a shift in responsibility the day of her swearing in. “All of a sudden I took on a new perspective of things,” she said. “It’s one thing to say something should be done, but now it’s like I’m back at the law office trying to get things done.”
Mary described her approach to government, which promises to be a pragmatic one. “When an issue comes up, first you do the investigation to figure out if there actually is an issue.” When considering initiatives, she said she asks, “What’s the least cost solution, and what are the ramifications?”
The preservation of water quality and quantity will be a focus for her. She takes a long view of the issue. “I would like to plan things out so that 50 years from now people will say, ‘I’m happy they did that.’”
Lightning Round — Mary Dudley
What do you always have with you? A buck knife.
Favorite place on Shelter Island? The Goat Hill golf club at 7 a.m. all by myself, carrying my bag
Favorite place not on Shelter Island? St. Regis Falls in the Adirondacks
Last time you were afraid? When I was sworn in as a member of the Town Council.
Best day of the year on Shelter Island? Tumbleweed Tuesday, when all the summer people leave.
What exasperates you? I was a little exasperated about a typo in a Reporter story about me, because it said that I practice Japanese shibari, instead of shibori, which is a batik technique. [Shibari is a type of bondage art. The typo, in a web post, was quickly corrected.]
Favorite book? ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen
Favorite person, living or dead, who is not a member of the family? Queen Elizabeth I. I love how she persevered and survived.