Mary Kotlarich Mezzino
Mary Kotlarich Mezzino went to be with her Lord on Friday, February 23. Born and raised in Galveston, she was over 100 years old; and as the accompanying photo suggests, she never looked her age. Who she would become and how she would serve God seemed destined from the start. A granddaughter of the Waldensian missionary, Artemesia Marchesi, Mary spent her young years attending the Italian service her grandmother led in the Chapel of First Presbyterian Church in Galveston and riding the Interurban with her into the county to visit the sick and the bereaved. That experience led her down a path she would walk throughout her life, a commitment to visit family, friends and yes, strangers, in order to offer comfort and Christian teachings and love to all.
A gifted musician, as a singer, pianist and director, Mary sang in every choir offered at First Church, beginning with her early years in the junior choir and later the adult choir - as choir member, soloist and later director. She took the reins of both Chancel and Junior choirs on six separate occasions, when there was a vacancy to be filled. When life took a turn and her family moved to Houston for several years, Mary played the organ for Reid Memorial Church and directed a choir at a neighboring Baptist Church. Back in Galveston a few years later, she found herself on call to play the church’s pump organ at the County Jail, at rest homes, at the Leticia Rosenberg Women’s Home and John Sealy Children’s Hospital. She and her three sisters sang quartets often and no matter their married names, they were the “Kotlarich Sisters” to the preacher and the congregation.
In addition to her choir work, Mary was an accomplished pianist, classically trained, but also with the talent to play by ear, in virtually any key. She served her home church as pianist both for the morning and evening services for a decade, as well as Vacation Bible School and the Men’s Bible Class. Music wasn’t the only talent she shared. She taught the Philathea Class and later the Ida Austin Class in Sunday School and led a Bible Study throughout her life, until she reached the age of 92. She was an avid student and Bible scholar, dating from her earliest years in at First Presbyterian.
It’s difficult to find a church where Mary didn’t sing or play as she was called on to add her beautiful voice to other choirs for a special cantata or service or direct a choir that needed a leader. And when a CBS television affiliate was established in Galveston, she became a member of the quartet that sang each week on TV Chapel.
Mary was also an accomplished legal secretary and worked for several law firms in Galveston when she was needed to fill in. She believed in being a stay–at-home mom and worked part time until her children were out of college. That work led to her being asked by the newly-formed Board of Regents of Galveston College to tap her for the first position filled at the proposed school until they could find a president and have her serve as his secretary. She was so proud of being on the ground floor of that effort and served two presidents before she retired. She continued to remain a fierce supporter of Galveston College long after her retirement.
When Mary and her beloved husband Mike moved to Dickinson in the mid-eighties, Mary found herself again being called into service, this time at Dickinson’s First Presbyterian Church. Under her leadership, the choir grew in numbers, including at least six couples who joined the choir together, singing in what they called a sacred musical and fun experience. She was well into her 70s at the time, simply starting another journey. While there, she received a call from a cousin on Tiki Island who asked her to play for a brand new start-up church for that community. They met in a garage, using an electric keyboard, moved to the fire station and then built their church on Tiki Island which continues to flourish today. Mary played for the Tiki Church in an early service, then drove back to Dickinson to lead the worship there. She was indefatigable when it came to serving her Lord.
Her last call as a choir director was to First Presbyterian Church of Texas City, which came from their new minister who found she didn’t have a choir director. One call solved that problem and Mary became a choir director once again, now in her 80s. Her son-in-law, also a choral director, said he didn’t know anyone who was still directing at age 88. She and a best friend made a trip to Italy when she was that same age.
Mary was a much loved mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin and friend, and the stories about her as a teacher, hostess and chef will be shared with all who were part of her life. She herself was a storyteller and spent hours weaving tales, first to her own children as she played symphonies to accompany her tales of adventure, then to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She loved to cook and did so even during those years she was a widow and living alone. There was always something special to be shared, including her famous biscotti.
For the past four years, Mary lived at The Cottages, a beautiful and very special place for those who suffer from dementia. The family is grateful for Mary’s devoted caregivers at The Cottages and Rachel Hamilton Jones. She was content and happy and enjoyed amazing physical health. She loved the Sunday hymn sing there and often smiled, sometimes singing notes, not always with words, sometimes in harmony and occasionally directing the group. The power of music is very real and you have only to look at the glorious smile in the photo from the hymn sing which was taken four weeks before her death to understand that.
Mary was preceded in death by her beloved husband of over forty-eight years, Michael (DeeDee) Mezzino, Sr., her parents, Josephine and Stephen Kotlarich, her brothers Henry Nelson Teichman and Antone William Teichman, her sisters Artie Kotlarich Cappolino and JoAnn Kotlarich Hamel. She is survived by her children, son Michael Mezzino, Jr. and wife Rita; daughter Maureen Mezzino Patton and husband Larry, grandchildren Jennifer Patton Grosvenor and husband Mike, Marjorie Mezzino Eastman and husband David, Melanie Patton, Christopher Mezzino and wife Nancy and Meredith Mezzino Hennan, eleven great-grandchildren and five great-great grandchildren. She is also survived by her brother, Stephen Kotlarich, Jr. and sister Camille Kotlarich King as well as numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.
Per her wishes, there will be a private gravesite service for the family, led by her nephew Reverend Craig King, pastor of The First Presbyterian Church of Alvin. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be directed to First Presbyterian Church or Galveston College or to the charity of your choice. The Heavenly Choir has a beautiful soprano voice in its midst today as well as someone who is ready to direct at a moment’s notice.