Mary E. Williams, 93, cook for clergy at Basilica of Assumption

April 19, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Mary E. Williams, a retired cook who prepared meals at the archbishop's residence and for the staff of the Roman Catholic Basilica of the Assumption in downtown Baltimore, died of a stroke Tuesday at Good Samaritan Hospital. The Northwood resident was 93.

Mary E. Benton was born and raised in Norfolk, Va., where she graduated from high school. She was married in 1928 to John A. Williams, a longshoreman, and moved to Baltimore. He died in 1966.

Mrs. Williams had worked for many years as a domestic and secretary before becoming an executive chef for the staff of the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Locust Point in the early 1960s.

After leaving in 1965, she operated a catering business and provided child care for family members.

In 1974, she returned to cooking full time when she took a job at the Basilica of the Assumption, where in addition to cooking daily meals she also prepared food served at banquets.

"Mary Williams was known by the Baltimore Community for her charity and love of the poor and care of Cardinal Lawrence Shehan, Monsignor Paul Love and Monsignor Porter White among others," said an article in the Catholic Review at the time of her 1988 retirement.

Mrs. Williams worked directly with the Lexington Market purveyors who supplied her kitchen.

"She always went to the Lexington Market and had her favorite places. Everything had to be fresh. She never bought anything that was frozen," said her daughter, Carolyn W. Beverly of Northwood.

"She was very methodical in the kitchen and was known for her roast beef and turkey dinners. I don't know how she did it, I'm the worst cook in the world," she said, laughing.

Mrs. Williams kept tables of the clergy well-supplied with seafood dishes, steamed crabs, savory roasts and her homemade desserts. Her cakes and pies, especially her spicy sweet potato pie, was a particular favorite.

"She loved to eat, and wanted everyone else to feel the same way. She was easygoing and whatever they wanted to eat, she'd make for them. However, whatever she put on the table, they enjoyed," Mrs. Beverly said.

"Her love for preparing food and her compassion for the needy was evidenced by her generosity and her sharing whatever she had with anyone in need," said her grandson, Kevin A. Cox of Towson. "Along with a good meal, one could always get a healthy portion of her quick wit and wisdom."

The fact that she was surrounded in her daily work by Roman Catholic clergy didn't faze her at all.

"She had been raised a Methodist, loved the Lord, and served by the way she had lived," the daughter said.

Mrs. Williams also helped prepare meals served at Our Daily Bread soup kitchen.

"It was Mary who made the soup for those early `sandwich and soup' lines at the Basilica's front door. It was Mary who prepared the monthly meal the Basilica served at Our Daily Bread. It was Mary who made the cakes for the weekly bingo parties and for all the meetings held at the Basilica," said the Catholic Review.

"It was Mary who served so many of Baltimore's poor early in the morning and late in the evening when Our Daily Bread was closed."

An avid reader, Mrs. Williams read the Bible daily as well as newspapers and magazines. When her eyesight began to fail, she continued reading with the aid of a magnifying glass, family members said.

"She loved sitting on her porch and talking to people who dropped by. She really was a great conversationalist," said Mrs. Beverly.

Graveside services will be held at noon Monday at Maryland National Memorial Park, 13300 Baltimore Ave., Laurel.

In addition to her daughter and grandson, Mrs. Williams is survived by a sister, Lillian Hoskins of Norfolk, Va.; and a great-grandson.

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