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Dr. Mary Z. Sherwood



Mary Helen Zosel was born Oct. 14, 1934 to Mable Flom Zosel and Leland Herbert Zosel in Wadena, MN. Mary followed her sister, Virginia, a year older, through primary and secondary school in Wadena. She enrolled in Hamline University, St Paul, in 1952, and graduated four years later (1956) with a B.S. degree in Nursing.


She married Harrison Brown Sherwood, in December 1957. He was at the time a graduate student at the University of Minnesota. Mary worked at the Swedish Hospital in Minneapolis until fall 1958 when they made a trip to Mexico City where they both studied for a term at the National University of Mexico. When they returned to Minneapolis Harrison completed his M.A. degree in International Relations and accepted a position with the International Cooperation Agency (later USAID) in Washington, D.C. Their first child, Harrison, Jr , was born that year, 1960.


Also, In 1960, Harrison passed the exam to become a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, in the Department of State. The couple were assigned to the American Consulate, Cali, Colombia. Their second child, Nora, was born there, in 1962.


Following their assignment in Cali the couple returned to Washington, D.C where Harrison was enrolled in the year-long course at the Foreign Service Institute to study the Finnish language. Mary, who had sponsored a young Colombian lady as a nanny, returned to the Children’s Hospital in Washington.


In 1964 the family of four took a transatlantic ship voyage their second foreign post in Helsinki, Finland. Also in 1964, their third child, Robert was born, in Helsinki. (Three children born on three different continents!) Mary was very impressed with the folk art scene in Helsinki. She worked for some time as embassy nurse, but she was becoming bored with general nursing, casting about for some other line of work, settling on textile art.


She bought a small weaving loom, which they set up in their apartment in Tapiola, a new town suburb of Helsinki. Through mutual friends Mary got in touch with weavers (they were all young women) and learned the fundamentals of weaving: equipment, yarns, how to “dress” (set up) the loom for actual production, the types of products feasible to weave. After a few months with the small loom, she upgraded to a full-sized loom. Mary soon developed her own products, mainly women’s outer garments, based on Latin American “rebozos,” which she had admired and acquired in Mexico and Colombia. She added further products to her line, and soon had more demand than she could satisfy easily. The weaving community welcomed her with open arms. 


In addition to weaving, Mary was a highly accomplished musician. While in Finland, she replaced her small spinet with a new, bigger harpsichord. She was a masterful keyboard artist and had many invitations to perform.


After five years in Helsinki the family was assigned back to Washington D.C. (1969). The movers had an unusual challenge: how to pack up two large, unusual, tricky-to-pack items: the loom and the harpsichord. No harm ever came to either piece of equipment in the years that followed; the loom was eventually exchanged again for a slightly smaller one which she still had at the time of her death, and the harpsichord is still in the family. 


The family spent two and a half years living in Reston, VA. In the 1970s the State Department was in turmoil over employee/employer relations. Harrison became deeply involved in labor relations and eventually Chief Steward of a labor union, doubling his workweek. Mary sympathized, but didn’t see enough of her husband so she pushed for another overseas assignment. Harrison was assigned to the American Embassy Trade Center in Stockholm in 1972, where the family stayed for two and a half years. She continued with her weaving and music activities, but was increasingly frustrated by the intrusion of the Foreign Service/Embassy on her life. She wanted to do more “on her own”


In 1974 Harrison was assigned to Santiago, Chile. Mary and Harrison auditioned and were accepted as members of the Chorus of the Catholic University of Chile, one of two national universities. They sang in many concerts, in Santiago and in other cities during their time there, and made life-long friends as music took over their social life. It was a good respite from an Embassy-focused life. Mary also showed her textiles for the first time as a professional artist in Santiago. Although they were in the country during the very harrowing early years of the Pinochet dictatorship, they loved their time there.


In 1977 they were assigned to the Embassy in Madrid, Spain. While they were sorry to leave their friends in Chile, the daily intrusion of Pinochet’s regime had made life difficult. The kids felt it, too. One of their friends’ fathers (Orlando Letelier) was murdered in Washington, D.C. during this time. Others simply “disappeared.”


In Madrid, Mary continued with her textile art and showed her work to great acclaim. However, she was ready for new challenges, and became acquainted with the overseas branches of American universities at U.S. military bases in Spain. She wanted to study psychology, with a view to becoming a counselor. Soon she was well-established in the community of post-graduate scholars in the U.S. Air Force Base at Torrejón, close to the Madrid Airport, Barajas. A brilliant student, she soon exhausted its offerings. 


Mary began to lobby for a transfer to Germany, where Ball State University (Muncie, IN) offered an extensive selection of graduate courses in psychology. Harrison managed to get them transferred to the American Embassy (which was still in Bonn, West Germany) in 1980. Mary took all of the courses on offer and received an M.S. in Psychology, but was prevailed upon by her adviser to finish off her Ph.D. at the main campus, in Muncie, Indiana. She decided to do so, leaving Harrison and youngest son Robert (who still had one year to go before finishing high school) in Bonn.


Mary received her Ph.D. degree in Psychology in Muncie, IN in 1984, and decided she didn't want to return to the Foreign Service life, where it would have been next to impossible to sustain a counseling practice. Mary and Harrison were divorced that year, and Mary moved to Reston, VA, where she worked as a counseling psychologist for many productive years. She retired in 2005. 


During her years as a counselor, she worked with hundreds of clients. Although she was not able to discuss her work with her family, there was always a steady stream of cards and gifts that attested to her effectiveness. She worked long hours five days a week, and often found herself quite exhausted by the physical and emotional demands of the work, and was known to quip,“Sometimes I just want to tell my clients, ‘for God’s sake, just pull yourself together’!


Once retired, Mary indulged in “touristy” international travel to destinations such as Spain, China, Ireland and other countries, and even served as a volunteer on several archaeological digs in England and Wales. She was also active with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at George Mason University.


Mary lived quietly during the last few years of her life as she was increasingly limited by the disease of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but she was “happy as a clam” reading books, watching competitive figure skating on the TV, keeping up with politics by daily reading of the Washington Post, cheering on the most left wing end of the Democratic Party, and visiting with her friends.


Her three children were privileged to take turns caring for her in her own beautiful little townhouse in Reston during the last eight months of her life, when she needed round-the-clock care. They were supported by her kind and dedicated housekeeper, Sonia, and the wonderful professional care givers at Capital Caring (a hospice provider). She was comfortable and content during those months, watching reruns of her favorite English archaeology program, Time Team, being fed a lot of pickled herring, waffles and Cherry Garcia ice cream, and having her back scratched. She was bright and chipper until the day before she died, on Friday, September 1. 


Mary is survived by her three children, Harrison, Nora and Robert, her daughter-in-law Kathy Porter, son-in-law Gary Burman, and her grandchildren Emily, Chase and Nissa.

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