Obituary in the Los Angeles Times
By Valerie J. Nelson, February 19, 2010
Mary was one of the bravest people I have ever known. Through all those years of fighting the extremely bad cards she had been dealt, she insisted on being alive, showing up, eating the food and dancing the dance, while she could. Every time I saw Mary she made me feel optimistic about life in general. Her honest and lack of bullshit, under that burden of her illness, were profound. As the Mardi Gras Indians might say, "She don't bow; she don't know how." It' sno accident that she, and Steve, found a spiritual home here, in the city that has battled the toughest of odds with such grace and resilience. What bitter beauty that she rode out on Mardi Gras. In New Orleans we live with those who have gone on before us. In the way Mary lived her life, up to the end, she gave all of us a precious example, and a very precious gift, and we will keep that give, and Mary, alive in our hearts.
Mary made me feel loved the way my mother makes me feel loved; fiercely, protectively, all-encompassingly. I was terrified that her death would mean losing that protection, having my warm feather cloak ripped off and leaving me cold and vulnerable to the world's harshness. But I still feel it, and I'm beginning to understand the magnitude of her gift to me, the immensity of her love, its enduring comfort.
You enchanted us with your beauty and tenacity, and though brief were your days among us, you have bravely reached the mountain top, teaching us of courage and wisdom.
With joy and laughter we celebrate your lovely soul, forever behold you in our hearts, our dearly beloved.
Mary Herczog... a guide, a friend, and a light.
I can't claim to have known Mary as well as many of the folks at her service. She came into my life obliquely, writing a story about a friend of mine, Patricia Kennealy-Morrison.
Then we all became friends.
Then we all became kin.
Through travel tales and food porn, long rambling e-mails and sweet phone calls, Mary became one of my guides.
Whether writing about food or God, she had a gift for telling you the story in a way that made you understand. Understand the taste of a fresh beignet in a cloud of powdered sugar, or of any of dozens of cuisines.
She made you feel the sacredness of some of the churches and temples she visited, and she had a reverence and joy for life that was... unique.
She and Steve were there for me when my wife of 23 years left me, and helped me find myself again. She worked with me on my own (alas, as yet unfinished) book on the nature of the Divine in our lives. She took such pleasure in my own growth and joy that I looked forward to sharing each step of the journey.
Now, she's gone on to a place we can only imagine, to be there to guide us when we arrive ourselves. I have no doubt she'll be waiting, with this great story to tell about The Big Guy.
A light may be gone from this world, but all that means is that we need to hold ours a little higher, because she's gone down that next, dark hallway to light the way for us again.
Travel well, Mary!
Jim "Jared" Davis
(From our young Hungarian friend Andi, whom Mary and I met on our first trip, in her small village from where one of Mary's great grandfathers had come-- Steve)
I am writing again, because I have help. I think that last evening when I wrote the previous email, then it wasn't the best because I translated the sentences from Hungarian to English with web translator, and in that email the sentences wasn't the best. But I felt that I have to write... So, I can't tell you how I feel because of the death of Mary. In my head I always have that sentence what you write, that Mary died, and that feeling what I felt then. I know that how much she was ill, but your emails you didn't make felt how much she was ill. I had a bad premonition, because only you wrote, but I knew that she couldn't use her hands, or I thought she was tired. So I have never thought that she was that ill.
I did love her and I do love her now, too. I am very happy, because she could see my husband and my children. I was dreaming that one time we coudl visit you and Mary, and I am sure that we would laugh and talk a lot.
She was proximate and so friendly with everybody.
Maybe you remember when you were here last time and we said good bye at the railway station, do you remember Steve you were on the train and Mary said that please write me a lot about everything and she said that MINDIG BARAT (Always friends). The door almost closed when Mary jumped to the train and we were laughing.
Every minutes we spent together... I will always remember that times. I do worry about you, I can't imagine how you feel now...
Zoltan, my father, and my children sorry this too.
Imagine when we read that email, the girls show one of the picture about Mary and they asked that is the lady who died? They remember to her.
God bless you!
Dear loved ones,
As you know, I lost one of my dear friends this week -- Mary Herczog. Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer at the young age of 33 and left us at 45 after years and years of treatment. When I was diagnosed, she was one of the first people I called, and she provided guidance and immeasurable reassurances throughout my own ordeal, despite the fact that she was going through more treatment the entire time I had my own. Mary was the only one who told me, for example, that my scalp would feel a certain weird way which would signify that my hair was about to come out in clumps. She told me the straight scoop in ways no one else dared or thought to. I think it was also due to her wit and comic way of looking at her own disease that I was able to approach my own with more lightness than drama. She showed me how it was done long before I ever imagined I'd need to know. We exposed our bald heads together on my first post-chemo outing and it gave me the courage to just rip that wig off later when I felt the need.
She was also always on the go -- running off to New Orleans or somewhere across the globe ceaselessly whether or not the demon had come back in some new, horrible way. When, a couple of years ago, one of her arms just went limp an decided not to work anymore, it didn't stop her for a second. I called her my own "Eveready Bunny" as she just kept going an dgoing -- returning to school to earn a Masters, writing extensively aobut her illness along with the Frommer's guide to New Orleans, doing extensive road trips once a year with her best friend, going and going, living and living more and more. She was the greatest inspiration to all who knew her, so much so that it was evident to all that, when things just started getting to be too much (Long after most people would have thrown it in, I believe...), even for her, it was so difficult for her to say it as she knew how much we did all look to her to keep US all going. We needed to let her know that it was OK to say the situation SUCKED. It was, in a way, a relief to hear her say it -- to finally see her allow the reality in.
I was lucky enough to be with her two times in the past few weeks, but each time her breathing was getting more and more difficult and so her passing wasn't so much of a surprise as, in a way, a relief, as these things can be... I just hope she's comfortable now. She passed on Mardi Gras, which was so perfect as she loved New Orleans and everything related to it, having owned a house there and visiting several times a year, writing in detail her "FOOD PORN" articles about every succulent morsel of fattening bliss she bit into. I was at their house for this recent Super Bowl, which was also such a lucky thing as I was there to experience the wonderful victory with her, knowing how much it meant to her and her husband, Steve, to see the Saints win. I'm so glad she got to experience that amazing triumph in her lifetime.
Mary used to say to me, "Whenever I get dressed, I think, 'what would Janet wear'", which is so amazing to me as she had her own beautiful sense of style. But then one day a few weeks ago, I suddenly realized that I myself would often think, "What would MARY DO?". I thad finally crept up to the surface from my subconscious. She always set such an example -- about how to live, love, deal with adversity -- and it served as a reference for me but I'd just never quite put it into a concrete thought until the last time she said that to me. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to tell her. We talked of taking a walk and going to tea in the past few months, just the two of us, planning to chat away about frivolous things but it just never happened. So today I went on my own, and imagined that Mary was there with me, sipping tea and eating something delightfully sinful. I hope that where she is she's enjoying such things, or having a mani/pedi and a massage - just being pampered from head to toe after her spirit danced through the street at Mardi Gras.
I'm not supposed to be doing this. Mary was the one who had promised to do it for me... yet here we are. And, because she loved words so, here are some she loved. I didn't write these first ones. But they are mine nonetheless.
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains - but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
I met Mary in 1992. We first encountered one another over the phone, when I was in L.A. on my book tour for my memoir, "Strange Days," and she interviewed me for Venice magazine. We hit it off immediately: that separated-at-birth, best-friends-on-first-contact, because that's how she did things, and because pretty much everyone she ever met considered her their best friend. And we weren't wrong to feel so. But we didn't meet in person until she was in New York that Thanksgiving.
We were booked to have dinner at this wonderful British pub. I walked into the restaurant, and there she was, sitting on the banquette, looking just as she should! And we were off.
Over the 18 years of our friendship (as many years as our age difference... oooh, cosmic!), we talked and visited and emailed endlessly. We talked about love, and hate, and jewelry, and books we'd read and books we'd written, and the British royal family, and food, and music, and figure skating, and chocolate, and just about everything else. She entertained me, edited me, counseled me on all sorts of matters, consoled me over hideously painful stuff about Jim; and I like to think I did as much for her.
I was privileged to help out a bit with her wonderful book "Figures of Echo," and to put her as a character into my own books, and to dedicate one of them to her. "For Mary Susan Herczog, who bossed me around."
And she bossed me around FOREVER. She got me to do things that no one else in the WORLD could have gotten me to do. And she got me to NOT do things, too, things I soooo wanted to do, bad things, when I wouldn't have paid the slightest attention to anyone else. And either way, she was always, always right.
Strangely, I did not sense her actual going. But I had sensed her moving away from us, like the moon, like the outbound tide, putting her skates on, getting ready to roll. We had a long talk in January, when she called to tell me how things stood, and I think I got to tell her all of how I felt. Which of course she already knew. And whatever I didn't say, she knew anyway. Because that was how she was.
One of the things she said to me in that talk was that she knew her friends would, at some point, be okay with it, but that Steve wouldn't, and Rick wouldn't, and I wouldn't. Right again, as usual! (That's a literary allusion. Mary would have known where it's from...)
But to roll on Mardi Gras, how perfect, and how perfectly Mary. She was unconvinced about the afterlife, but I'm not, and I can SO see her riding into Aslan's country atop a giant flower-bespangled float, in a gorgeous gown and of course a lovely diamond tiara, halied by cheering multitudes as their Queen. Or being met by Dumbledore in the spiritual King's Cross station, and boarding a train that will take her On. Or dancing in the ruins tonight, and every night. And that's what I think, no matter what.
She was more alive than anyone I've ever known, and funnier and braver than anyone I ever met. I was prouder to win one praiseful word from her than a spate of them from strangers, and I loved her very, very much.
So, a few words more that we both treasured....
What though that radiance which was once so bright
Be now forevfer taken from my sight;
Though nothing can bring back the hour
of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy,
which, having been, must ever be.
'Bye, darlingest Mary! When you meet up with Jim, well, you know what to do...
I knew Mary from New Orleans (I was at her wedding to Steve that occurred on one of Nancy Covey's "Festival Tours" to Jazz Fest) and also in the context of a medical school professor at UCLA. It also turned out that her sister Deborah and I knew each other at St. Monica's, where Deb was a grade ahead of me. Besides the usual music and crawfish memories that many others share, I know another side of Mary that not many others do.
As part of my job at UCLA medical school, I was the chair of a course for first year medical students that tried to teach them how to interview and examine patients, but more importantly how to treat their patients with compassion as individuals with a life outside the examination room. Every year as part of the course during a week when they were studying the strictly medical aspects of cancer and its treatment, I invited "cancer survivors" to speak with the class about their experiences. Since Mary was still actively undergoing treatment of one sort or other, I wasn't sure whether or not she would want to do something like this, but when I asked her, she was more than happy to do it. Never at a loss for words, she spent over an hour with a group of fifty first year students and without mincing words told them what she had been going through for several years (at that point). She answered any and all questions with candor and humor. As long as those students were in medical school, I would get questions about how Mary was doing. I know she made a lasting impact on those fifty students and the way they will view their patients in the future.
Susan Stangl, MD, MSEd
From the memorial board at the reception after Mary's funeral: