Remembering Mary Max
By Phil Snyder, Executive Director Suncoast Humane Society
I met Mary Max in 2002 while attending a legislative conference in Washington D.C., sponsored by The Humane Society of the United States. I had just sat down at a table in the corner, close to the podium, when she and her husband asked if they could join me.
The three of us exchanged pleasantries, but didn’t have time for introductions as the program was about to start. The speaker began introducing various political figures and animal protection advocates seated around the room. As he looked towards our table, he said, “And now I would like to introduce the world’s greatest living contemporary artist, Peter Max, and his wonderful wife Mary, a truly passionate and compassionate animal advocate.”
This was beyond belief, because I had no idea who I was sitting with. As I was about to ask forgiveness for not recognizing him, Peter laughed and said “Hey, let me tell you a story.” He told me of his first sighting of Mary, when he passed her on a street in Manhattan. He said he immediately felt a connection and approached her saying “Hi, I’m Peter Max, and I have been painting your portrait all my life.” Keep in mind that Peter Max was already a world-famous artist at that point. Mary, however, finished Peter’s story, by shrugging her shoulders and saying, “I had no idea who Peter Max was.”
My wife knew who Peter Max was. When I called her from the hotel, she screamed with joy and proceeded to tell me his life story and all about his famous artwork. Among others, she knew about paintings of presidents and other world leaders, his work on the Statue of Liberty, and his environmental postage stamp. She went on and on about his legendary artwork.
When we met at the same table for the second day of the conference, Peter continued telling me stories of his history and his work. At one point, I jokingly, but truthfully, interjected, “Peter I know you are telling me the truth, as my wife told me the same stories when we spoke last night.” He smiled and asked for a piece of notebook paper. While speakers continued with the program, he drew a picture for my wife with a personalized autograph. It is framed and sets in our house, just below the framed large poster, “Blushing Beauty”, from his “Romance Series,” that he later sent to us. It, too, is personalized.
I doubt that without Mary’s urging, Peter Max would have been as involved in animal protection issues. At about the time of our conference, she was becoming very seriously involved in humane, animal rights and environmental issues. She became co-founder of Humane USA PAC and helped to launch Voters for Animal Rights, organizations striving to get humane-minded legislators elected nationwide. She and Peter founded an organization called Kind Green Planet.
Mary often hosted fundraisers, auctioning pieces of her husband’s artwork and her own jewelry collection for her supported causes. She also became founding board member of the Coalition for Healthy School Food, encouraging schools to provide healthy diets.
Mary was a compassionate animal lover, especially of cats. In 2005, she was elected to the Board of Directors of The Humane Society of the United States, strongly supporting their Pets for Life program, which focus on veterinary care and support services in communities with limited or no access to pet wellness resources. She was often recognized for her excellent contributions by organizations, such as The Humane Society of the United States, Farm Sanctuary and Mercy for Animals.
Mary died recently, taking her own life. She suffered from severe depression for several years. Her long battle with personal and legal issues took its toll. She will be missed by many, but especially by those who recognized her efforts to make the world a more humane environment and better place for animals.