RIP Mary Boutselis Sampas

This message and comment on the late Mary Boutselis Sampas was written by our friend Mehmed Ali. With his permission it is reprinted here:

 Brother Tony,

I heard that our own Gal Friday Mary Boutselis Sampas passed away yesterday. Last time I was home in October we had a chance to visit her with Lom, Sivang and her kids, Marina, Peter, and Sara and John Boutselis. We celebrated Lom’s ninth birthday with pizza and cake and the youngsters gathered for a quick pic ’round the matriarch. There was a faux fashion show by the girls to which Mary provided commentary – describing in detail the dazzling make-believe dresses of the mini Tenth Street Runway divas.
We always marveled how great she was doing everytime we went there. At 93, she would complain for about three and a half minutes about a few aches and pains and then spend two hours laughing and reminiscing and intently asking questions about her guest’s views on the world. Never a bore nor stiff with a jaded view of life, Mary defied age as ever a person could. She was filled with new stories everytime I saw her and her memory for details amazed me as only a few have done.
I so enjoyed her wry in-person editorial on the city’s movers and shakers which of course contrasted her pleasant publicly printed plugs of everything Lowell. What an amazing run the Sampas lineage has had with Lowell linotype. Words – hundreds of thousands of them -cut a large swath from her typewriter in most often unusual but careful combinations. I loved the fact that she still picked away at some old semi-automatic (which at one time I unsuccesfully tried to find her ribbon cartridges for on the internet) and then the hard copy was whisked downtown to be rekeyed by some young Sunscribe into digital format for a Tuesday column.
Last Fall, the editors had cut her back to a twice a month format but Mary didn’t seem to take it personal even though they just sent her a letter informing her of the change instead of giving her a call as they should have. She wasn’t really concerned that she was being pushed from the paper’s pages either, her only thought was that it might affect how the non-profits would receive the coverage they deserved.
It has been a long road from the time in the mid-1930s where Smitty Powers, the Wire Editor for Lowell’s Great Newspaper and Mary’s mutual friend through the owner of Market Street’s Parthenon Restaurant, met Ms. Boutselis and asked her to write a column of “Greek News.” Her first news story was about a church bazaar…one day we need to find that copy in the microfilm. Thousands have been featured since – including me. Mary was a big booster of mine over the years writing of Historical Society events; my Phnom Penh wedding; exhibits on Brad Morse, the Kennedys, Syrians, Italians, and more; and my travels from South Africa to Iraq all along providing true poetry on the page.
We have both lamented that Mary’s writings over the last decade have slowly moved away from the memorable “color columns” about Lowell-Life to a heavier reliance on name-dropping of the city’s elite benefactors. I remember we were there at the Mogan one day when one old Aegean-hatted, acrid Acre-ite criticized her for not covering the “common man.” Mary just waved him off sort of telling him to go write his own column. She was right. She was the inspired force, not him. Critics are many, creators are few. With three quarters of a century under her belt who was he or we to tell her what she should relate to the readers….she was and will forever be the permanently pertinent Pertinax.

3 Responses to RIP Mary Boutselis Sampas

  1. Tony Sampas says:

    I remember that uncomfortable moment at the Mogan when Mary was criticised but I don’t recall her offering a verbal retort. Mary derailed the fellow’s ranting by suddenly asking him to pose for a photo. He stopped his criticique, posed with a few of us and Mary snapped the flash. The hostility was totally neutralized as if by some social slight of hand.

  2. Kosta says:

    Some effort should be made to gather a selection from Mary’s writings – those that reveal a glimpse to the history of Lowell and the lives of its people – that she lived and wrote about – day by day – bit by bit – a 75 year whole – that she likely didn’t dwell upon, as she was doing it. Ten of her columns are on the online magazine Bridge Review: Merrimack Culture” at:

  3. Paul Maher Jr says:

    I can volunteer to pull that together. I already have much of what her and her husband wrote about Kerouac, in fact all of it. They were certainly champions of our resident author from the days he left for Columbia, through months before and after the publication of The Town and the City (and its COMPLETE serialization in the Lowell Sun), the years after when Charles Sampas, via his Sampascoopies column, apprised Lowell of Jack’s attempts to publish On the Road.

    Mary wrote touching elegies to Gabrielle Kerouac, asked on April 14, 1958 in Pertinax, “What Happened to Jack Kerouac?” after his name and visage was published across the United States after Dorothy Kilgallen, in her gossip column “On Broadway,” wrongly reported in a bleak headline, “Jack Kerouac, Badly Beaten, Maybe Knifed.” The fact was that he was beaten, badly beaten,in Greenwich Village, a point touched upon by Joyce Johnson in her memoir Minor Characters. Kerouac took that beating as a portent to stay out of the village, out of the limelight, out of the city and stay in his home with Gabrielle and work on the thing that mattered the most to him, his writing.

    Mary’s article was one of a dear friend concerned for another, and she remembered the young idealist after a hostess at a soiree she entered, had dramatically taken a paperback copy of Kerouac’s novel The Subterraneans, and tossed it into her elegant hearth. Well, there wasn’t a fire, fortunately, and someone in the room commented that the era of Hitler and book-burning were dead. Lowell was bitter about how their native son was portrayed by the recent interview with Mike Wallace, which they felt portrayed him as a “crackpot.”

    Mary Sampas and her husband knew the other side of Jack, the tender, sensitive young man with a head swollen by the plays of William Saroyan and the novels of Thomas Wolfe. She writes:
    “Remembering the hauntingly beautiful letters Kerouac wrote us during his long stint with the World War II merchant marine, we shudder a little that so much of the old Jack has been misplaced or put aside. And yet, when the man who turns out shockers, and has in reserve many books for which “America is not yet ready,” spent most of his time during his last visit here, alone, unlonely, at Ste. Jeanne d’Arc church.”


    “It is hard to reconcile the boy with the dream to the man who revels in his nightmare as “Christlike.” But he’s only 35..and a “flaming youth as a flaming question” has banked its fires, so may the beatness be beaten out of him and his. He may yet make his city proud of the “authentic” talent he is known to own.”

    Mary, in a way, was caught up in the press of the time, which in itself was caught up in a public image they created, the “beat” image that aimed to make a joke out of him.

    Mary helped me with my biography of Kerouac and Empty Phantoms by generously allowing me to use her and her husband’s writings, because I felt (and still feel, perhaps stronger now), that their perception of Kerouac, much like Stella, his wife, was of a pure one, and it must have been heartbreaking to see him go down in flames as his fame finally began to rise.

    Rest in peace, Mary.