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Mary Finley Conrad is the reason for my love of books, Shakespeare, and the arts

Mary Finley Conrad with my dad,, Hugh B. Conrad, Sr., in 1972

… shelves were lined with books

What I remember so much about the living room in our house was the number of books that were on the shelves. These included a series of classical novels that I used many times over the years.

They started with some easy books when I was about 4, and by the time I entered first grade, I could read and write better than anyone in my class. That aided me greatly in finding success early in my schooling, and it also provided me with incentive to succeed in education.

After those childhood books came a series of books about many people and organizations and events in history. I was probably the only one who read them, but I did so more than once with many of them. Then she ordered the Readers Digest condensed books which featured many of the contemporary novels and non-fiction works of the 1950s and 60s.

In addition, my mother, Mary Finley Conrad was an English teacher who understood that the more reading that a person did, the more literate he or she became. So, we would not only have a daily newspaper, but on Sunday, we had two newspapers: The Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Times.

I would have preferred a Pittsburgh newspaper since we followed those sports teams, but that did not come until later when I begged my dad to have her change to the Pittsburgh Press. He did.

However, it was the Times that she foisted upon me, and again, of the four children, I was the only one who rad that voraciously. That was how I discovered politics and government and the world, broadway and entertainment, and, of course, sports on the East Coast.

I read the news section, the News of the Week in Review, and the New York Times Magazine.

Why the Times? My mother was hardly a flaming liberal.

Quite the opposite.

People today would assume that editorial philosophy was the reason for reading that. Instead, she knew quality journalism, and the Times, then and now, provided that. She knew that their news was the best in the country, and she provided it for us.

In addition, she explained to me the difference between the editorial pages and the news sections, something people today do not.

Again, no one else in the family would read the Times except me — although my mother would focus on the Arts section and occasionally, the news.

I did not become a teacher because of my mother, nor did I become a writer because of her. However, her love of reading and the arts made an impact on me.

She was the reason that I started taking piano lessons in first grade, continuing until the eighth when I started taking organ lessons on the new organ in St. Brigid’s Church. I was a church organist and vocalist for about ten years, off and on, and that was because of her influence.

In many ways, she was the antithesis of me. She despised sports, and she never attended any of my games from little league through high school. That, however, did not matter. I did not care about that. She had provided something greater, more lasting that all of that.

Today, as I tutor so many students from across the country in the classics, including many Shakespearean plays and those authors from centuries ago, I have to realize who started that love.

We disagreed on many aspects of life, including politics and religion and many others. However, my mind is still functioning well at the age of 75, I believe, because I have not given up that love of reading.

She ws a unique lady, dedicated to volunteer public service. She earned a B.A in English from Dickinson in 1929 when few women had the opportunity to attend college. That occurred because a lady named Mary Cameron, who was from the wealthy family of a former U.S. senator and secretary of war, took an interest in my mother and paid her way through that private school.

I guess that I should thank “Miss Mary” too on this Mother’s Day, even if she never married and never had any children. She gave my mother the opportunity to secure an education that continued on for generations.

For that, I am grateful to Mary Finley Conrad on this Mother’s Day 2022.

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