Mary C. Gasek
Watercolorist known for her still-life works and landscape paintings enjoyed summering on Cape Cod
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 Gasek recalled in an unpublished memoir.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.