Just before school ended this year, we were saddened to learn that our founder, Mary Samp, had passed away at the age of 96 on June 19, 2017. A 70-year resident of Cambridge, Mary is remembered by so many people as a person who quite deliberately built family and built community every day. Her talent for kindness extended into her time living at Youville House, where she welcomed new residents and made dear friendships.
Born in Portland, Maine, Mary put down roots in Cambridge and raised five children here with her husband Edward J. Samp. In 1966, together with Florence Mintz, Bette Rae Preus, and Marsha Stainton, she organized a group of 15 mothers to volunteer to establish the first school libraries in the public elementary schools. From that group, Cambridge School Volunteers was born, first as a project, and then later as a non-profit organization. The group soon found itself tutoring students whose home language was not English, and they also began organizing a program to get boxes of materials on loan from the Children’s Museum into classrooms across the city. Lee Robbins, also from Mary’s hometown in Maine, responded to Mary’s call and later became CSV’s first president under its new nonprofit charity status.
Former Mayor Frank Duehay remembers going with Mary to visit then-Superintendent of Schools John Tobin to get permission, given at last with some reservations, to allow these volunteers access to the schools. Former State Representative Alice Wolf, who was among the first volunteers herself, noted that Mary’s deep goodness also had steel. Mary was determined to find a way to support public education, and when Mary was determined, her resolve and her charm carried many doubters along. She built a group that learned how and where volunteers could support teachers and students, opening classroom doors to the community when they had previously been shut quite tight.
Mary remained involved with CSV throughout her life, while working for the Baker Library at Harvard Business School, and she was proud of the legacy she left in CSV. Her son remembered driving with his mom to every company in Cambridge with sales greater than $1 million, asking each of them to contribute $1,000 to help support public education. Her persuasion worked, in many cases, and the funding she raised allowed CSV to open its first office on Inman Street. Today, those first fifteen volunteers have grown into nearly 1,000 volunteers giving 40,000 hours of tutoring and mentoring to students in the Cambridge Public Schools. At our 50th anniversary, Mary, Lee Robbins, and our current President Sally Peterson gave a joint toast to kickoff the party.
Mary is survived by her five children: Edward III (and wife Kathleen), John (and wife Lyn), Eric (and wife Cushing), Richard (and wife Jo Ella), and Margaret, and five grandchildren. Her husband Edward preceded her in death. They were married 61 years.
Mary was involved in many other non-profits as well, including Cambridge-Somerville Elder Services, the Cambridge Homes, Girl Scouts of Cambridge, and the PTA. Her family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations in her memory be made to Cambridge School Volunteers. We are grateful for the generosity of spirit shown by Mary Samp, her family, and the other early pioneers for Cambridge School Volunteers. Quite simply, everyone who knew Mary loved her, and this city and we are a better place thanks to the way she lived her life.
Donations may be made online or by mailing a check to Cambridge School Volunteers, 459 Broadway, Cambridge MA 02138. Donations are tax deductible, non-profit tax ID 04-2554626.