Mary Jo Heckler, beloved daughter, sister, and friend, passed on April 16, 2021 after a brief illness. Mary was born November 30, 1948 in Sidney, Ohio, the daughter of Ruth and Robert Heckler, the second of five children.
She attended Holy Angels Catholic Schools. As an early teen, Mary, because of her father being stricken seriously ill, was called upon to become the caretaker of her younger sister and baby brother so her mother could tend to her father. Mary cooked and cleaned and at too early of an age was managing kids and a house. She had to grow up quickly.
After graduation she entered the convent of the Ursula Sisters of Brown County. Though she enjoyed the camaraderie of the other novices, Mary decided the religious life was not her vocation. She then left the convent and traveled through Europe with a friend taking in the sights and culture, as well as every art museum she could manage to visit. This solidified her love of art and became an integral part of her life.
Returning to Cincinnati, she utilized her degree in art and taught elementary students. She delved into sculpting, painting, and pottery, leaving behind many pieces for her family and friends to remember her by. She was well known for her stunning religious banners, many inspiring the congregation of the Catholic Center at Xavier University. Mary also created graphic art for logos and advertising for many clients. As if that was not enough, Mary’s talent did not end with art: she was equally creative in the kitchen, making even the most simple dish taste five-star worthy. Mary took this talent and love of cooking and moved to Lexington, Kentucky, in 1976 to work at Victoria Station, accelerating from line cook to general manager in just three years.
Her parents and siblings moved to Austin, Texas, and Mary decided it was time to live closer to family. She was offered an opportunity to create and open her own restaurant and catering business, and soon the Purple Plum became the iconic noon-time destination in central Austin. She was known for her special meatloaf sandwiches, homemade soups, and luscious desserts. One of her favorite memories was meeting Willie Nelson while catering an outdoor festival, where he commented that Mary’s food was “Good Grub.”
After 15 years, it was time to move on and the Bay Area in Northern California called to her soul. She became the volunteer and event coordinator for Catholic Charities in 1999, a job that brought her great joy because it was helping other people that were giving of themselves. This planted the seed of the California lifestyle and climate, which Mary loved.
Several years later Mary moved again to another of her favorite locations, near New York City. Mary began working for the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Nyack, New York, in 2008 as Peace House host and event coordinator. This, too, was a position where she found much joy and fulfillment. After leaving FOR, and with the urge to run her own business again, she opened a Bed & Breakfast in Ithaca, New York. This was her opportunity to create a true home environment for friends new and old. Her home was top rated and a favorite for students, their families, guests of the college, and travelers in general.
When the New York winters proved to be too harsh, Mary felt the call of California again and decided to move back to the Bay Area. There Mary continued to pursue her love of all things of art. She dealt in these things as a business. She continued using her gifts of organizing gatherings and parties with the greatest of food for her friends and neighbors. She was the one generously offering time and transportation to make sure all her neighbors got to the grocery, drug store, and doctors.
Throughout her life, Mary made friends everywhere. When you became her friend, you were her friend for life. She would share her artistic creations, send gifts, cards filled with touching sentiments, emails of encouragement, all so you knew she was thinking of you. Her generosity and love was shared without judgment or expectations. You were cherished and never forgotten. Her joy for life, no matter how difficult at times, was evident in everything she did.
Mary is survived by her brothers, Robert Heckler, Jr. (Janie); David Heckler (Jane); sister Lynn Christopher (Doug); and numerous nieces and nephews who remember her as “their favorite aunt.” She was predeceased by her parents and brother, John.
We will never fill the empty space the passing of Mary has left in all of our lives. We won’t hear her laugh, enjoy her company and stories, witness her kindness, or taste her food. What we have is our memories of our time together held in our hearts and the knowledge of how blessed we were to be included in her life. She is missed every day. We love you, Mary.
Shared with the Fellowship of Reconciliation by the Heckler Family.