When Mary Boyd was a child, her mother often said, "If I ever lost one of my children, I think Iíd go absolutely crazy." Mary found out years later that this is indeed how one feels when a child dies. On July 17, 1989, a drunk driver killed seventeen-year-old Ivan Garth Johnson, Maryís only child.
Boyd had moved to Austin in 1970. A high-school drop out, she was a teen-age mom who, after just two years, had become a single mom. She remembers Ivan as a goofy little kid who really grew into himself, and -- by the time he was a teenager -- had developed into a beautiful and engaging person. "The beginning was tough, kind of wild, but by the time he was seven or so we had really started to cultivate a good relationship. He really was a sweet child."
When Ivan turned three, Mary returned to school earning a degree in architectural engineering. For several years she had her own engineering company but is currently seeking employment in that field.
After Ivanís death, Mary says insanity set in instantly. It was for this that she found MADDís victimís services helpful. "They assured me that I would eventually get past this. Not that I would get over it but that I would someday just be able to live with it. They told me it would take about two years and thatís exactly what it took."
Mary says she did whatever she felt she needed to do to come out a whole person: therapy, meditation, trance-work, praying to the Goddess. She didnít want to live her life becoming a bitter old person. "I didnít try to suppress anything, I just did what I had to do in order to heal. Right after it happens, itís all you want to talk about: Ivan, the accident, all of it," says Mary. For some people around her this was hard, and as a result many friendships lapsed. One dear friend stuck with her through it all though, and that friendship is now stronger than ever.
Four months after Ivanís death, Mary took it upon herself to create a public memorial at the scene of the accident -- on the underpass at 5th St. and Lamar Blvd. Being a spiritual woman but not Christian, Mary felt that she needed to design her own memorial rather than use the standard cross used by MADD. "Ivy" was a nickname she had for Ivan and a friend gave her the idea of painting a heart with ivy. The words, "Fair sailing" came from a jug band song about Amelia Earhart and were in reference to Ivanís love of ultra-light gliders, a passion he never got to experience. "Tall boy" was of course Ivan, standing 6'3" at the age of 17. All underlined with the very emotionally straightforward message, "Donít drink and drive. You might kill someoneís kid." A personal public service message, which reaches thousands of drivers a day.
Mary painted the memorial with a stencil, some spray paint and the help of a friend as decoy. When the cops came, the friend filled her role and kept them talking so that Mary was able to finish painting. Several more cops, some handcuffs and separate cars brought them down to the station for arrest. "Most of the cops were very sympathetic, one however was giving me a hard time. I asked him if he had a kid of his own and that quieted him right down." A few hours later the two women were released with the help of a lawyer friend.
In 2001, the fading memorial was painted over with gray paint. Mary called the City and was told not only that all city run graffiti clean-up crews were directed to leave that alone, but also that Ivanís memorial had reached the status of Art in Public Places. She never did find out who painted over it. Mary was granted permission by the City to repaint the memorial. No cops arrested her this time. She feels the memorial is even better than before, more vivid and vibrant -- a testament both to her inner serenity and to her maturation as an artist.
Shortly after Ivanís death, Mary moved out to the country to escape the noises of the city. She found peace out there in many ways including a budding interest in flower gardening and a life separate from her city life with Ivan. In the country, too, she found an old friend who ultimately became her husband, a man for whom she is grateful everyday.
For a while, Mary was involved in MADD as a lecturer on their victimís impact panel. This program allowed her to speak publicly to convicted drunk drivers about Ivan and about her loss. After many heart-wrenching lectures she is finished with that now and feels that it was Ivanís voice that allowed her to finally step away from the painful process of publicly reliving and recounting. While she is no longer an active member, she feels their role is a very crucial one and she is grateful for both their personal support and their political action.
Every year on Ivanís birthday, November 8th, and on the anniversary of his death, July 17th, Mary Boyd retreats and takes the time to meditate, to talk to Ivan. What she takes away from her experience and from her unfathomable loss is the fundamental knowledge that death is just another part of life.
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Here's a little more from Mary Boyd:
Who inspired you when you were growing up and why?
The first person that comes to mind is my mother. Not that she was perfect by any means, but she was definitely ahead of her time. She was intelligent and enthusiastic and interested in so many things. In the fifties she sat in at lunch counters in Houston with black friends of hers. She was vehemently anti-racist even though her family had many racists. She made me believe that she loved the challenge of taking tests (she didn't remember that when I brought it up to her later) so I believed I did, too, and made me a good test taker. That greatly helped my academic career, which is, of course, a good foundation for a work career. Unlike her sisters, who believed that what a women needs is a good man, she encouraged me to be an architect, and never once expressed an opinion about a woman's place being in the home. Though we had struggles in my teens and twenties, I always knew she loved me and she was proud of me. She was a strong woman and she had a lot of courage and she greatly encouraged me.
You are face to face with your ten-year-old self. You have one thing to say to her about her future, what do you say?
Time is shorter than you think. Or maybe that when things are really bad, keep in mind that they will get better. You just have to hang in there.
What is the biggest contradiction you see mothers are faced with today?
On the one hand we are told that our children are the most important thing, and on the other, economics make it necessary to leave them with underpaid, rapid-turnover childcare workers, and way too little of our nation's wealth is spent on their welfare. Politicians run on "family values" but war is not a family value, hate is not a family value, poverty is not a family value. I believe that women should have the right to pursue their careers, but I think they should also be able to choose to focus on raising their children, also, and our society should support that in real, bottom line ways. I believe the benefit to our society would greatly exceed the cost, and the cost of not doing so has proved to be great in the lives of our children and our nation.
What do you see as your biggest challenge in being the kind of person you want to be?
Time. Energy. Contradictions in my thoughts about what kind of person that is.
What makes you most happy about what you give back to the world?
I'm not sure. I think that the fact that it does make us happy when we give back to the world is one of our evolutionary survival traits. That humans have the urge and desire to help other humans in need, and get satisfaction from it, is undoubtedly one of the things that has allowed us to be as successful an animal as we are.
What two notable people would you like to see handcuffed together for a day?
Lloyd Doggett and Carol Keaton Strayhorn
What do you wish you could automatically grant, like a fairy godmother, to mothers during trying times?
The serenity to accept the things they cannot change, courage to change the things they can and wisdom to know the difference. And a vacation.
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