It is with great sadness I report that today we lost one of the founding members of the hiking club, a leader of so many of our outings, and dear friend. Mary suffered a slight stroke this spring, and has been in a local nursing home since mid May. Mary’s son, Jeff, asked that I advise her hiking friends.
Mary and her late husband, Harold Wilkey, were long-time fixtures in all kinds of Chattanooga Hiking Club activities, as well as doing outings of their own. I remember how impressed I was when I found out that they had hiked the AT from Springer Mountain to well up into Virginia by doing only dayhikes - quite an amazing accomplishment when you stop to consider the logistics! In 2004 Mary was honored for having led 100+ hikes! And she continued to lead hikes for us even in her later years, including her traditional pre-Christmas walk on the Brainerd levee. In the History section of this website is a copy of Mary's write-up for the club's 12th anniversary - an interesting read.
Susan Faidley composed the following to be read at Mary's funeral service. It is a remarkable insight into Mary and her contributions to the local hiking community, and to the way things used to be "in the old days".
Mary was one the most significant people I have known in my life, and her presence touched me in a major way. She was my mentor. She was a catalyst for renewal in my life. She was an inspiration, as I came to know and love hiking and the mountains. Mary took me to beautiful places and shared her great knowledge of hiking and trails. Her passion became my passion. She inspired me as a hiker to push myself beyond what I believed to be my limitations. At times, she was a cheerleader. Mary shared her abundant knowledge of wildflowers and the natural world. She gave me the tools to develop my skills as a hike leader and encouraged me to take others to special places. The Chattanooga Hiking Club was Mary's baby. Her dream - to bring folks in Chattanooga together to hike - was realized. As time went by, this organization touched so many people's lives for the better. Many of us have been like a family and my closest friends have come to me through the Chattanooga Hiking Club. With them I have known experiences I otherwise would not have enjoyed - all of this - because of Mary's desire to bring the benefits of hiking to others. Mary and I shared a great love for two spectacular places - the Appalachian Trail and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. My introduction to strenuous hiking came through Mary where these two amazing places come together - the Appalachian Trail running through the Smokies - and specifically through Spence Field. I was already having qualms about my ability to handle this challenging hike and Mary was a stickler when it came to proving your ability. So when I called her to register for the hike, I had to prove my worthiness. I barely passed muster, and only because I had done one other hike with the club that qualified me. So the day of the big hike came. I was very nervous about keeping up on the big climb to Spence Field. All the way to the Smokies in the van belonging to our dear friend, Betty Petty, I heard hiking stories of the great things the group had done. I was more nervous than ever. At the trailhead, we received instructions, among other things, about waiting at the trail intersections. I must not have clearly understood. We took off hiking, and I guess all the built up adrenaline carried me faster up the trail than I had ever imagined. As a result, 3 us arrived first at the top of the mountain. At the trail intersection with the Appalachian Trail, there was a sign for the Spence Field shelter. So certainly, I reasoned, the shelter would be at Spence Field. So off we three went - Mary's beloved Harold being one of us. When we arrived at the shelter, fortunately someone was there to tell us we were wrong. Spence Field was in the other direction at the intersection. Back we hiked as fast as possible in hopes of getting there before our error was discovered. Harold and I both knew we would be in trouble. But too late, we realized, when we heard the whistle blowing incessantly. We rounded the turn in the trail to go to Spence Field and there was Mary, and she was not happy with us. Fussing at us to say the least. Harold and I blamed the incident on the other, but Harold got in more trouble than me, since I was new to the group. She forgave me quickly when she saw my extraordinary happiness to have joined her in this amazing hike, which proved to be a life altering event for my own life. She must have forgiven Harold, too, because one week later she married him. And from that that day on I was very careful about trail intersections and following the leader's rules. Eventually, as a leader myself, I discovered losing people on the trail was a bit stressful. As the years flew by Mary and I shared many miles together, and I listened and learned from a master hiker, leader, and naturalist. There are many wonderful stories of adventures and many beautiful places experienced together and with the club. Mary continued to be my inspiration as she aged, and gallantly fought her advancing years, continuing to hike as long as she could. Our last hike together was in 2011 when we went to the Smokies together for my 15-year anniversary of hiking to Spence Field. On that weekend, we shared our common love of an uncommon place. She didn't make it all the way to the top that year. Harold's declining health had held them back from getting out as much. But we walked together for a while revisiting the day she brought new meaning to my life. I love you Mary. Thank you for all you gave to my life. Thank you for all you did to touch so many lives. I know you and Harold are hiking together right now in a beautiful place with a grand view of the Smokies. I just hope Harold doesn't go through a trail intersection without waiting, or that whistle of yours will be blowing. Susan Faidley