Mary Ann was an R.N. with a specialty in labor and delivery, a profession she pursued where-ever we lived. She trained at St. Mary’s in Wausau, Wisconsin but upon graduation went to work at the hospital in Carmel, California, where her good friend from nursing school, Miyo Enokida, had a job opening that she wanted Mary Ann to fill. When we got married and lived in Berkeley she worked in the university hospital there giving our income a real boost. When I was hired to teach in Pacific Grove, California, she went back to work with her old friends now working at the new Monterey Peninsula Hospital.
Mary Ann and I decided we wanted a family with as many as five children but after three miscarriages and one live birth of a Downs daughter who died three days after birth, we had all but given up on having any children of our own. Then she got pregnant again but I had to go to Washington, D.C. to train for my job with the United States Information Agency leaving her in Pacific Grove, living with my mother, when David was born with Down’s Syndrome. Working on the assumption that we could give David better care than he could get in an institution we took him with us, a five-month infant, to my new post in Manizales, Colombia.
In Manizales, they had just opened a 400-bed hospital built with U.S. aid. The trouble was they had only five registered nurses on staff. The rest of the help were illiterate girls who knew nothing of patient care. The head of the hospital wanted Mary Ann to come to work and head up the Labor and Delivery department. Mary Ann agreed to do so for two days a week but at a “Western” salary. The hospital director agreed to the pay which we, in turn, donated in full to the local orphanage. The first day on the job Mary Ann came home in tears. A doctor had chewed her out for objecting that he was smoking during an operation. And it didn’t get much better. After 9 months on the job, Mary Ann quit. The stress was just too much.
Wherever we lived Mary Ann was able to get a job as a nurse, a profession she followed for 30 years. After retirement from nursing in 1980, she went back to college to study horticulture. It was her idea to create a mom-pop nursery on land that we owned next to our house to provide an employment opportunity for the mentally disabled youth of our community. We called it Big Rock Garden Nursery. It opened in 1981. In the solar greenhouse that I built into the hillside below the garden, she propagated over 10,000 rooted cuttings of azaleas and rhododendrons every year. Then she and David potted them up for sale. This went on until the city purchased the land in 1993 as a city park. This makes Mary Ann Drake the founder of Big Rock Garden Park.
Ever since childhood, Mary Ann was a knitter but it wasn’t until the 1980s that she really got involved in the serious pursuit of fiber arts. She purchased a spinning wheel and learned how to card and spin fibers. First, it was only wool but soon she was spinning dog hair, mohair (rabbit), silk, flax, and many other exotic fibers. She got into natural dying and would collect lichens, tree bark, flowers, and many other items for creating dyes on our many hikes in the Cascades and elsewhere.
On our travels in Latin America, she would seek out the spinners, dyes, and weavers and learn from them all she could of their craft. Our house became full of stashes of fibers, three spinning wheels, several looms, and many bottles of dyes. She formed or joined numerous fiber arts organizations. She specialized in knitting hats of her own design with all the various fibers she was spinning, dyed with her natural dyes. She became famous as the MAD Hatter, MAD standing for Mary Ann Drake.
January 15, 1995
My Dear David:
You have been a joy to the both of us.
Remember what Don McClellan said in his sermon a week ago: that children and parents are on loan.
We have been most fortunate to have been together for over 30 years. [55 years until Mary Ann’s death May 31, 2017.]
Remember all the good times and wonderful memories – especially treasure those wonderful hikes in the mountains and when we would be overwhelmed with the beauty of acres of wild flowers with all the grandeur of the mountains behind. Also the tiny exquisite flowers in rock crevasses or the single flower along the trail.
Then there were the daily tasks we did together and the creating of Big Rock Garden – the three of us in the beginning.
And the times you helped me with the preparation of fiber for my wonderful hobby of spinning and creating glorious piles of color in yarn.
And how through your perseverance and hard work you competed in Special Olympics International. How proud your mother was when you won the four medals.
Remember too all the wonderful concerts we have attended and just listening to some great music as we worked together in the house.
We have truly been given many blessings – just to live in the environment we have, surrounded by beauty.
God has been good and He will continue to keep you in His care. You have indeed been special. A gift on loan. A special joy to me.
Letter read at Mary Ann’s Retirement Party
As though it was sent from Manizales with local translation. All stories are true.
“Hospital Universitario, San Jose de Caldas
Estimada Senora Dona Maria Anna de Drake:”
“It is with pleasure that we salute you on the occasion of your retirement from the profession of nursing. Even though it has been many years since you worked in our hospital as one of five registered nurses in our four-hundred bed hospital we remember you well. To show you how well we remember you and all that you have done for us we will tell you some of the changes that we have made in nursing procedures due to your suggestions:
During a surgical procedure you noticed a doctor leave the patient, go to the window, open it and knock the ashes out of his pipe. He then refilled the pipe with tobacco, lit it and went back to continue the operation. You were correct to point out that he had broken sterile technique. We have now instituted the following procedure: the doctor will give the nurse his pipe and she shall empty the ashes, fill it with tobacco, light it and pass it to the doctor. The doctors appreciate your suggestion. We are not sure the nurses do.
Your observation that the baby formula that was supposedly being sterilized in the autoclave chamber was merely being warmed was correct. The staff never did realize that they had to shut off the escape valve to build up pressure to sterilize the formula. Rather than teach our nursing staff with limited education these new fangled techniques we are back to heating the formula in a pan on a small stove placed in the nursery. That seems to work just as well.
You brought to our attention that the straw mattresses used by the patients needed airing and cleaning on a regular basis so we have ordered that every mattress is to be beaten each month for five minutes. If the patient dies of a communicable disease the mattress is to be beaten for at least ten minutes.
You were so kind as to bring to our attention the incldent in our Labor and Delivery section where you found a patient in the delivery room, still up in stirrups, with no one in attendance. You found that every one had gone to lunch, leaving the patient alone. We discussed this matter with the staff and feel that your cultural viewpoint as a Norte-Americana limits your appreciation of the significance of the two-hour lunch break which is almost a sacred tradition in Latin America. Women who deliver so close to the lunch break should be willing to suffer such a minor inconvenience. There are some traditions that we will not change just to copy North American standards.
With heartfelt appreciation for all your work as a member of our nursing staff we remain, most sincerely yours,
Dios se le Pague.
Mary Ann Drake 1929 – 2017
Mary Ann Drake, wife of George F. Drake for almost 60 years, mother of David F. Drake and Todd Drake quietly passed away at home on 30 May, 2017.
Mary Ann grew up in Wisconsin but upon completion of her training as an RN she moved to Carmel, California where she worked in the old Carmel Hospital. Her 30 year nursing career saw her pursuing her specialty as a Labor and Delivery nurse in many hospitals in the US and for several years in Manizales, Colombia, where she was one of five registered nurses in a 400 bed hospital. She loved travel and in 1954 spent several months bicycling around Europe. Over the years, either alone or with family, she traveled to many countries but especially loved travel in Latin America.
In her travels she pursued her interest in hand spinning, weaving and knitting, learning about local natural dyes and traditional weaving techniques from artisans in small villages and native communities. She became an accomplished fiber artist whose work won highest awards in many craft fairs. She became known as the “MAD Hatter” (MAD stood for Mary Ann Drake) and was active in the local Spindrifter and NW Regional Spinning Association.
Upon retiring from nursing at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bellingham Mary Ann had the idea to create a small ‘mom, pop and developmentally disabled child (David)’ plant nursery on property she and her husband owned in the Silver Beach neighborhood. The plan was to provide a sheltered work environment for disabled youth and thus was created “Big Rock Garden Nursery” which, when purchased by the City of Bellingham twelve years later, became Big Rock Garden Park.
Shortly before her death she received information that the American Azalea Society would be naming one of the Huang Azaleas “Mary Ann Drake”. She and her husband introduced to American horticulture this group of new hybrid azaleas from Shanghai, China in 1982.
A memorial service will be held in the First Congregational Church, 2401 Cornwall Ave. in Bellingham on Sunday, 16 July at 2 p.m.