Mary C. Gasek

Wa­ter­col­orist known for her still-life works and land­scape paint­ings en­joyed sum­mer­ing on Cape Cod

Baltimore Sun - - OBITUARIES - By Fred­er­ick N. Ras­mussen fras­mussen@balt­sun.com

Mary C. Gasek, an ac­com­plished wa­ter­col­orist who aided her hus­band in his work as an Epis­co­pal rec­tor in upstate New York, died Aug. 5 of mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis at the Blake­hurst Re­tire­ment Com­mu­nity in Towson. She was 90. “Mary Ellen was a great and real lady,” said June Fin­ney, a Blake­hurst res­i­dent and artist, and a long­time friend. “Even though she lived in freez­ing-cold Utica, N.Y., for years and va­ca­tioned on Cape Cod — her fa­vorite place where she owned a house — she never lost her South­ern ac­cent.”

The daugh­ter of Shelby Comp­ton, an in­sur­ance sales­man, and Mar­garet Downs, a school­teacher, Mary Ellen Comp­ton was born in Mont­gomery, Ala.

Shortly af­ter her birth, the fam­ily moved to Colum­bus, Ga., where she grad­u­ated from high school.

Her fa­ther owned a lo­cal soft-drink bot­tling com­pany but lost the busi­ness dur­ing the De­pres­sion.

“It was Ge­or­gia in the 1930s, and the wolf was at our door,” Mrs. Gasek re­called in an un­pub­lished mem­oir. “He did what­ever he could to find a job — no mat­ter where, no mat­ter what.”

Her mother worked, and the fam­ily man­aged to af­ford a maid to take care of the chil­dren while she was gone. Mrs. Gasek re­called that one day, she asked her mother how they could af­ford a maid.

“She looked at me closely and said, ‘Mary Ellen, that poor woman couldn’t get a job any­where, and I knew I could find a job. So I worked in or­der to pay the maid so she could feed her chil­dren,’ ” Mrs. Gasek wrote in her mem­oir.

“Even now, I of­ten think of that,” Mrs. Gasek re­called. “Dur­ing those long hard years, I’m sure a lot of women made sac­ri­fices to help other women out.

“I guess maybe I don’t have much pa­tience with women who don’t try to ad­just to chang­ing cir­cum­stances. It’s just sheer fool­ish­ness,” she wrote. “Maybe they didn’t have the strong women I had in my life, in­clud­ing my aunts — all nine of them! They were strong and coura­geous.”

She grad­u­ated from Val­dosta State Col­lege in Ge­or­gia — now Val­dosta State Uni­ver­sity — with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in the hu­man­i­ties. She then be­gan study­ing wa­ter­color paint­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing lay­out at the Uni­ver­sity of Ge­or­gia in Athens.

Dur­ing World War II, she met and fell in love with Bill Ea­ger, a young Army lieu­tenant. He was killed in France af­ter the Bat­tle of the Bulge in 1944.

“It took me three years of griev­ing to get over Bill,” she wrote in the mem­oir. “Then I met Stan­ley, and it worked.”

She fell in love with the Rev. Stan­ley Paul Gasek Sr., a Utica na­tive who was an Epis­co­pal chap­lain sta­tioned with the 82nd Air­borne Divi­sion at Fort Ben­ning in Colum­bus, Ga. He later was sent to Europe as the 82nd lib­er­ated con­cen­tra­tion camps. He was dis­charged with the rank of cap­tain in 1945. The cou­ple mar­ried in 1948. Mr. Gasek re­sumed his ca­reer as in­terim rec­tor of Grace Epis­co­pal Church in Utica, and then was named rec­tor. He re­mained at the church un­til re­tir­ing in 1987.

The Gaseks moved to Cross Keys in 1987. From 1992 to 1997, Mr. Gasek was the planned-giv­ing of­fi­cer for the Epis­co­pal Dio­cese of Mary­land, and also served as pas­toral as­so­ciate at the Epis­co­pal Church of the Redeemer. He died in 2002.

“She helped her cler­gy­man hus­band run a very large down­town parish,” a son, S. Paul Gasek Jr. of Brew­ster, Mass., wrote in a bi­o­graph­i­cal sketch of his mother. “She was the ‘rec­tor’s wife’ when such a thing was vo­ca­tional.”

Mrs. Gasek en­ter­tained vis­it­ing bish­ops, deans and other dig­ni­taries. She was an ac­tive mem­ber of the Grace Church al­tar guild and hos­pi­tal guild. She served as vice pres­i­dent and later pres­i­dent of the Ju­nior League.

Even though Mrs. Gasek had been di­ag­nosed with mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis in her 50s, she never let it slow her down or in­ter­fere with her life, her son said.

Through all the years of rais­ing her chil­dren and as­sist­ing in her hus­band’s church, Mrs. Gasek con­tin­ued paint­ing and study­ing un­der wa­ter­color artist Ed­ward Chris­tiana at the Mun­son-Wil­liams-Proc­tor Arts In­sti­tute in Utica.

Mrs. Gasek, who moved to Blake­hurst in 2001, was an ac­tive mem­ber of the Bal­ti­more Wa­ter­color So­ci­ety, where she ex­hib­ited her still-life works, land­scapes and snow scenes of upstate New York.

“She was cer­tainly a very coura­geous per­son be­cause she had [mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis] and she never made a big deal out of it or asked for help,” Mrs. Fin­ney said. “We took lessons to­gether and painted out of doors. She had a great sense of color and de­sign.” Said Mrs. Fin­ney: “We were like sis­ters.” When Mrs. Gasek pro­gressed from a cane to a walker, and fi­nally to a mo­tor­ized scooter, she turned to her friend.

“I said, ‘Mary Ellen, we’re both go­ing to the scooter store and pick out one for you,’ ” Mrs. Fin­ney re­called with a laugh. “Here we were, two older ladies, whizzing around the store on those scoot­ers like we were rid­ing the bumper cars in Ocean City. She had a great sense of hu­mor about life.”

For nearly 60 years, Mrs. Gasek en­joyed spend­ing sum­mers at a cot­tage in Brew­ster, Mass., she and her hus­band had owned since 1958.

Re­flect­ing on her life, she re­called in her mem­oir: “I have to stop and think some­times about what a fine life I’ve had, and a fun one too! We all go through our tri­als, but my life re­ally has been a fine one.”

A fu­neral ser­vice will be held at 2 p.m. Sept. 17 at the Epis­co­pal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St.

In ad­di­tion to her son, Mrs. Gasek is sur­vived by two other sons, Shelby C. Gasek of Har­wich, Mass., and Thomas D. Gasek of Rochester, N.Y.; three grand­chil­dren; and a great-grand­daugh­ter. Mary Ellen Gasek was a tra­di­tional “rec­tor’s wife” at her hus­band’s church.

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