Mary Reed Shepard, longtime peace and justice advocate, dies

Mary Reed Shepard, who for decades doggedly pursued peace, justice and the media, was comfortable in country clubs or on protest lines.

Mary Reed Shepard
Mary Reed Shepard

“She was a patrician,” said Polly Mann of her longtime friend who died Saturday at 91. “But she also was very tolerant of the foibles and shortcomings of people.”

Shepard was an early member of Women Against Military Madness, often acting as a media representative of that organization and other peace and justice groups. She typically was disgusted with the mainstream media portrayal of U.S. foreign policy.

“I remember we once had a meeting with members of the Star and Tribune editorial board,” Mann recalled. “We went in there, sat around this table, and asked them, ‘Why do we have to prove everything we say three times over, but you print every handout you receive from the White House with no questions.’ They told us, ‘That’s just the way it is.’ ”

The answer did not satisfy Shepard, who read and studied issues voraciously. She frequently confronted reporters and editors about coverage of anything from welfare issues to international relations. The belief of WAMM members was — and still is — that everything, from poverty in the inner city to Wall Street’s power to military expenditures, is linked.

“Unlike so many of the characters who run for office,” Mann said, “she was always careful with facts. She made it a mission to be as accurate as possible.”

Like so many of those early members of WAMM, Shepard fought for the poor but came from a background of considerable wealth.

“I’ve thought about that a lot in recent years,” said Mann of the upper middle class (and higher) lives of so many of the women who started WAMM in the early 1980s. “To be able to work for a peaceful world is a privilege. If you’re worried about putting food on the table for your family, you don’t have time to invest in those big peace and justice issues.”

Shepard’s husband Roger, who died in 2004, was an avid golfer and a country club member.

“I think they tolerated her at the country club,” said Sarah Martin, who first met Shepard at Loretta’s Tea Room where Shepherd had given a speech to about 50 women. “No matter where she was, she didn’t let up on the issues she believed in.”

Martin said that Shepard, who grew up in New York and attended Vassar College, never was pretentious about her wealth. She dressed plainly and drove a nondescript car. She also opened her home in Sunfish Lake as a fundraising site for all manner of causes, ranging from the Episcopal Church to welfare groups. Her husband was supportive of her efforts.

Among the more creative things Shepard and other women with similar backgrounds arranged was for wealthy business people to take trips to Third World countries.

“What they would do is take these people, who had only seen the Hilton lifestyle, and show them the seamier sides of life in these places,” Mann said.

Shepard and her husband had three children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

“We loved our families,” said Mann, “but we weren’t the types who showed each other pictures of our grandchildren.”

In recent years, Shepard had backed away from being so active, telling her friends it was difficult to keep up with what she considered the required studying.

A private service is to be held. The family has asked that donations, in Shepard’s name, be made to Women Against Military Madness or to an Albuquerque, N.M., organization, Books to Brillance.

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