Mrs. Mary Martha Christianson, of Folly Creek Cottage near the hamlet of Daugherty, peacefully ended an 11-month battle with cancer at The Hermitage in Onancock on Oct. 18, 2018. Until the end she was cared for by her devoted husband, Jim Williams, surrounded by her many Eastern Shore friends, her two surviving children, and the well wishes of friends and family across the country.
She was born Mary Martha Kistenmacher, daughter of Charles Frederick and Annie Caroline Coffman Kistenmacher, on Feb. 3, 1934, in St. Louis, Mo. She graduated from Clayton High School, Oberlin College (B.A. – Comparative Religions) and underwent graduate studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Known to many of her friends as Mimi (and to her grandchildren as Meems), she led a full, active and socially engaged life. Her many homes included Storrs, Conn., Seattle, Wash., Steeleville, Mo., Poughkeepsie, N.Y., New Britain, Conn., Saratoga, N.Y., Chinnor, England, Amherst, Va., Lynchburg, Va., Henley, England, Charlottesville, Va., Richmond, Va., Sitka, Alaska, and Daugherty, in the town of Accomac. Her travels took Mimi and her children, her friends, and her partners to all continents but Antarctica, and over 30 nations of the world.
Mrs. Christianson worked as a Girl Scouts leader, as a social worker, as a guardian ad litum, and a therapist, expert at pulling people out of family traumas. She volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, arts councils on the Eastern Shore and in Southeast Alaska, and served to start up or strengthen Unitarian Universalist congregations in both places as well. Music was a great love of her life, which she acted upon through support for the renowned Sitka Summer Music Festival, elements of which she proudly brought to Onancock when she moved back to Virginia.
Mrs. Christianson loved adventure. She worked as a camp counselor in the Rocky Mountains as a teenager, camped her way across the United States several times, and spent a summer traveling around Europe with her family in a converted World War II ambulance, The Owl. She sailed the West Coast from Alaska to South America, and out to the Galapagos, as well as the Chesapeake with her husband, Jim, on his mighty ketch Lobo. She skied (and broke limbs doing so.) She and Jim together built an addition on to their Folly Creek Cottage.
Throughout her life, Mrs. Christianson was a close friend, supporter and muse to artists. Her homes have always had their walls filled with works by painter friends. Her gatherings for poets, novelists, journalists and musicians have grown legendary over the years. She helped found a radio station in Alaska, KCAW-Raven Radio. She was a key member of IHLRN (International Human Learning Relationships Network) for 30 plus years, organizing their spirited annual getaways around the globe and editing their regular newsletters.
Mrs. Christianson always had beloved pets by her side, including her 18-year-old cat, Melinda, right up to her final month. She supported her children, Paul, David and Fern, wholeheartedly her entire life, and was devastated by the passing of David, a theater professional who predeceased her in 2002. She also “adopted” other children wherever she went, from a boarding student in Sitka, Julie Petro Lowndes, who stayed her close friend and almost-daughter for nearly 40 years, to younger people wherever she’s lived or traveled.
As a grandmother, Meems would drive long hours to spend holidays or vacation at the beach. She was always fun to be around, but she was also never a “coddler”; when she played you in hearts, gin rummy, parchisi or Chinese checkers, she always played to win. And she couldn’t abide those long games like Monopoly or Risk that would end family discussions. As a girl, she’d say, a night at home involved singing around a player piano, charades, and other community-strengthening endeavors.
Mrs. Christianson moved from Alaska to the Eastern Shore of Virginia in 1997 after several trips along the East Coast searching out a new coastal home. Settled into the peninsula home surrounded by Nature Conservancy lands and Folly Creek’s calming waters, she built a new life filled with work aiding area nonprofits, doing social work consultancies, and helping to start and run the Accomack Interfaith Crisis Council. She made myriad friends through regular bridge-playing events, membership in one of the liveliest book groups ever to gather, and through her marriage to Jim, a former mayor of Onancock, noted sailor, and the center of many key social groups.
Mrs. Christianson is survived by her loving husband of many years, James Williams; her sisters, Nancy Kennaugh, of Englewood, Fla. and Jane Hennerich, of Manchester, Mo. (her brother, Charles F. Kistenmacher Jr., predeceased her); children, Paul Smart, of Albany, N.Y. and Anne Fern Smart, of Lakeville, Conn. (her son, David Henry Smart, predeceased her); grandchildren, Sam Weisman, of Washington, District of Columbia, Julian Weisman, of Boston, Mass., and Milo Smart, of Albany, N.Y.; plus various nieces and nephews and entire communities of friends.
A gathering of Eastern Shore friends and immediate family took place the weekend following Mrs. Christianson’s passing in Harborton. A memorial service and casting of ashes onto Folly Creek will take place on the afternoon of Nov. 24, 2018, at Folly Creek Cottage, in Daugherty, with ceremonial drumming and cello/bass musical accompaniment. A separate service for farther-afield friends is being planned to take place at Oberlin College in Spring of 2019.
In lieu of flowers, donations would be appreciated to the Accomack Interfaith Crisis Council (AICC), PO Box 738, Onley, VA 23418-0738.
Memory tributes may be shared with the family at www.williamsfuneralhomes.com
Arrangements were made by the Williams-Onancock Funeral Home.