Thursday, February 19, 2009

Celebrating Mary Riffe's Life and Passing

My mother, Mary K. Cowart Riffe, passed away in Dallas on February 5, 2009. I got the news just as I was starting the Fall 2009 Film Tour. With a heavy heart I screened and discussed Waiting to Inhale to large crowds in San Diego, California and Salt Lake City, Utah. In a way these screenings and discussion forums about controversial and important public policy issues are partly due to her influence on me over my lifetime.

Mary was a journalist, but when she moved to East Dallas from Lake Highlands she moved back to the historic neighborhood where we were both born. I was still in San Francisco, California doing grass roots organizing followed by organic farming in Mendocino, California when Mary became an activist for community housing in East Dallas. I moved back to Dallas in 1975. This is when I produced my first PBS broadcast documentary Promise and Practice: Redlining in North America. I purchased a SONY AV 3400 Porta Pack, and she bought my first videocam tripod and the first box of reel to reel tapes. Mary was one of the three lead organizers focusing on fighting "redlining" and on housing and community development and preservation. Mary's work lead to her being one of the main characters featured in Promise and Practice.

As all my films are about social justice issues, over the years Mary enjoyed being at the premiere of each documentary, particularly the community screenings.

It's hard to let go of Mary. Her husband and my dad Norman Jerry Riffe, Jr. died in 1966 at the age of 42. I was already on my own, married to Susan Kreager, and working my way through college by managing the school newspapers and working for Bob Campbell & Associates. She became the matriarch and sole source of support for my brother Ken,sisters Candy and Cindy (deceased), and adopted brother Billy Jack Canada. Anyone that knows my family know the effect that my father's death and my mother's taking over the reins of the family had on all of us, both good and bad.

We are leaving for the memorial. We had cremated and are having a memorial today for her. I will write more later today.

1 comment:

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