Mary Tuthill’s 100-year story of accomplishment

09/29/2014 2:00 PM |
In 1999, when she turned 85, the town honored Mary Tuthill for her work establishing a nutrition center for senior citizens. Here, as she nears her 100th birthday, she holds the proclamation she was given by town officials.

In 1999, when she turned 85, the town honored Mary Tuthill for her work establishing a nutrition center for senior citizens. Here, as she nears her 100th birthday, she holds the proclamation she was given by town officials.

Often referred to as a Renaissance woman by her family and friends, there is little Mary Tuthill has set out to do in her life that she hasn’t achieved.

And it’s been a long life, thus far.

With a résumé that includes founding Southold Town’s adult nutrition program and assisting in the creation of Suffolk County Community College, many of Ms. Tuthill’s achievements are still visible today across the county. 

When she reflects on her life, Ms. Tuthill, who will celebrate her 100th birthday Tuesday, Sept. 30, said there is one common denominator behind all of her accomplishments. “Curiosity,” she said. “I have always been interested in finding out more.”

Learning is something Ms. Tuthill has strived for since an early age.

Born in Manhattan in September 1914, she always dreamed of becoming a nurse. At 17, she was accepted to St. Catherine’s Hospital School of Nursing in Brooklyn.

“I have a one-track mind and I wanted to be a nurse,” she said. “St. Catherine’s almost turned me down because I was too young, but I got lucky.”

It was at St. Catherine’s that she met her husband, Percy Tuthill, a North Fork native and doctor who was working at the hospital in the summer of 1934. The couple wed on Sept. 25, 1936, and would have celebrated their 78th anniversary this month.

In 1940, they moved to Orient. Mr. Tuthill established his medical practice in Greenport, and Ms. Tuthill worked there while raising their five daughters and four sons.

At the same time, Ms. Tuthill championed education efforts and became the first director of the Eastern Long Island Parent Teacher Association District, now known as the Suffolk District PTA. During her role as director, she joined forces with county and state officials to secure a former tuberculosis hospital in Selden as the future site of Suffolk County Community College, she said.

“Not many people here could afford to go away to school and they needed one that they could easily commute to,” she said. “I saw the former tuberculosis hospital as an opportunity and a group of us went to Albany to discuss it. At the time, [politicians] upstate thought everyone on Long Island was rich. They agreed to visit the site and I got to show them around. The site was eventually picked.”

In addition to education, nutrition is another of Ms. Tuthill’s passions. While she was working as a San Simeon by the Sound nurse in Greenport in 1974, Southold Town asked her to establish a nutrition center for seniors — a precursor to today’s Human Resource Center in Mattituck.

“I knew because I worked in nursing that people could have gone home [from hospitals] sooner, if they had the proper nutrition,” she said.

Ms. Tuthill retired as manager of the program in 1980 and the Town Board issued a proclamation for her contributions in 1999, on her 85th birthday.

“The nutrition program Mary Tuthill established still follows the same protocol and provides useful health and medical information and services to the benefit of the senior citizen population and their families residing in Southold Town,” the proclamation reads.

Friends and family say Ms. Tuthill’s work has been an inspiration to them all.

“She is an amazing lady,” said longtime friend Betty Goldsmith. “We all admire her for her intelligence and kindness. We call her ‘The Renaissance Woman’ for accomplishing all she did.”

“She inspired us all to be independent and to get educated,” Ms. Tuthill’s daughter Hope said.

Ms. Tuthill, who now lives in Southold, said nutrition and exercise are still a priority in her life. She exercises with friends each Tuesday at the Southold Public Library, keeps busy playing bridge, and completes The New York Times crossword puzzle every Sunday.

When asked what her secret to a long life is, Ms. Tuthill laughed.

“I always tell people, ‘Just keep breathing,’ ” she said. “It always helps.”

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