“Mary White was a heroine then and has been ever since.”
Certain childhood readings leave a lifetime impression and Mary White’s story in the third-grade primer did that.
Author of the writing didn’t mean anything then, but renowned editor William Allen White, Mary’s dad, has become a mentor.
A century ago, in the Emporia Gazette, May 17, 1921, Mr. White printed his 16-year-old daughter’s editorialized obituary.
“The Associated Press reporting of news about Mary White’s death declared that it came as the result of a fall from a horse. How she would have hooted at that! Mary never fell from a horse in her life.
“Horses have fallen on her and with her. ‘I’m always trying to hold ’em in my lap,’ Mary used to say. Mary was proud of few things, one that she could ride anything with four legs and hair.
“Mary’s death resulted not from a fall but from a blow on the head which fractured her skull. The blow came from the limb of an overhanging tree on the parking.”
A present-day editorialist surmised: “The accident did not surprise anyone who knew her. Mary was a rambunctious girl who rode horses and drove cars with the same reckless intensity.
“On that Tuesday afternoon, Mary was riding a skittish mare named Hardtack. Having changed to her riding khakis, Mary aimed as usual for country roads north of Emporia.
“But about where the Emporia State University Library parking lot is now, Mary was distracted. A school friend delivering the Emporia Gazette rode by on his bicycle.
“Mary turned to wave with her bridle hand. This caused Hardtack to dart from the road and plunge beneath a catalpa tree. Still turned to wave, Mary may not have seen or could not avoid collision with the fatal branch.”
Frequently reprinted, Mary White’s story was developed into a movie always creating sad surreal feelings.
Mr. White concluded Mary’s eulogy: “A rift in the clouds in a gray day threw a shaft of sunlight upon her coffin as her nervous, energetic little body sank to its last sleep. But the soul of her, the glowing, gorgeous, fervent soul of her, surely was flaming in eager joy upon some other dawn.”
Reminded of Esther 8:16: “At this time, she had a dawn of new hope, gladness, joy and honor.”