Mary Laird Silvia
Historian and healer, genealogist and gardener, linguist, litterata, and loyal friend, Mary Laird Silvia died in Cottonwood, Arizona, surrounded by family on Tuesday, January 29 after a short illness. She was 74.
Mary Alletta Laird (March 26, 1938), named for her paternal grandmother, was the eldest of three children born to William Winder "Chick" Laird and Winnifred Moreton Laird. She grew up on the banks of the Brandywine, opposite the Hagley Powder Yards. From a young age, she developed a fascination with the people and events that shaped the destiny of the Brandywine Valley.
She attended the Tower Hill School where she excelled in French and music, two lifelong passions that contributed to her many extraordinary experiences. After Graduating from the Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, CT, she attended Sweet Briar College near Lynchburg, VA for two years. Mary then spent a formative year at the University of London. She returned to the United States to earn her B.A. at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, MA. There she perfected her French and became a leader with the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert & Sullivan players, designing lights, sets, costumes and singing in the chorus. She often remarked that it was one of the most enjoyable experiences of her life - total immersion in an art and musical form on which she'd been raised - a passion she carried with her all her life. Mary also developed her trademark independence of mind at Radcliffe.
After college, she and a Radcliffe classmate convinced their parents to allow them to circumnavigate the globe, starting in Hawaii, and then gradually making the successful argument that "as long as we're this far, we might as well keep going". In the 1960's travel to Afghanistan, Egypt, Malaysia, Lebanon and other countries was considered unpredictable, if not dangerous. Long before cell phones and the Internet, these two young women traveled, wrote about, and photographed the exotic people and places they encountered on this trip. On returning home, Mary characteristically downplayed the uniqueness of her experiences, but as time went by, she drew on the many cultures she'd gotten to know and the friends she'd made to help stimulate further explorations and associations.
She continued her international studies by taking an advanced degree at the University of Geneva and thereafter worked as a licensed interpreter/translator for the United Nations. She followed this with an assignment working for Sergeant Shriver at the Peace Corps in Washington, DC (1967-69). From there she became Director of American Studies at the French International Lycée in Washington, after which she served as a bi-lingual guide in the Nation's capitol, sharing her wealth of international experiences with diplomats and members of their families from all over the world.
In 1975 she married Peter A. Silvia, a nautical architect-engineer for the U.S. Navy. They enjoyed sailing together on their boat, the Flying Daffodil. At this time Mary became a talented holistic health consultant who employed nutrition, muscular manipulation and energy work to care for many patients suffering from chronic ailments that had not responded to traditional medical interventions.
After her father's death in 1989, she discovered boxes of family papers which she used to tell the story of the area where she had grown up. This soon expanded into a series of oral histories based on interviews with former Du Pont Powder Mill workers and their descendants. Her monograph on the settlement of Rockland, DE, and its many families, is now an important addition to the Hagley Library archives. She followed these projects by completing genealogies and histories of several very large branches of her own family as well as her husband's ancestors.
In between these busy professional endeavors, Mary always found time for her garden (hostas and daffodils were her favorites), for travel, and for engaging with, and helping to excite the imaginations and interests of younger family and friends. Though she never had children of her own, she was naturally drawn through inquisitiveness and energy to share the joys of intellectual and actual explorations with her contemporaries, and their offspring, around the world. Life was one great adventure for her, and she pursued it with great vigor.
She is survived by her husband of 37 years, Peter A. Silvia of Kennett Square, PA; a brother, James W. Laird of Ft. Lauderdale, FL; and her sister-in-law, Ann D. (Laird) Wick of Wilmington, DE. Her brother, George W. Laird died in 1977. Mary was a devoted Aunt to her Laird nieces: Margaret L. Laird, Alletta L. Tate, and Irene L. Jennings and their spouses; to her Wick niece and nephew Patricia Christias and Warren Wick and their spouses; and to her ten great nieces and nephews. She is also survived by her brothers-in-law, John D. Silvia of Little Compton, RI and Philip J. Silvia of Albuquerque, NM and their spouses. The families of Peter's brothers include seven nephews and six nieces-in-law: Ian, Galen and Nicole, Aaron and Sarabeth, Mark and Tara, Jonathan and Sarah, Evon and Paige, and Phillip Jr. and Christina. Included in the Silvia nephews' families are two great-nieces and one great-nephew.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, February 16 at 11 am at Christ Church Christiana Hundred, Greenville, DE. In lieu of flowers, Mary requested that donations be made to the Hagley Museum and Library, P.O. Box 3630, Greenville, DE 19807 for its Oral History Project. Interment will be private.