“In her own words . . .” A tribute to Mary Sampas
It was curiosity more than anything else that drew me to the Whistler House tonight for a retrospective on the work of Mary Boutselis Sampas who wrote for Lowell newspapers, mostly the Sun, for 75 years. I confess to being only an occasional reader of Mary’s columns. Perhaps that’s because my twin passions of politics and history kept me jumping from the city page to the obituaries and left little time for anything in between. Tonight I realized to my great regret what I had missed. Listening to a dozen and a half of her columns being read this evening was a thoroughly enjoyable experience that made me truly appreciate what a superb talent and a hard worker Mary Sampas was for an unbelievable three-quarters of a century.
When I arrived at the Whistler House for the 7 pm start, the room was already packed with a crowd that exceeded 130 admirers. The program featured readings of selected poems and columns on topics like Kerouac and Kennedy, Sinatra and Satchmo, and much, much more. What made the evening especially enjoyable was the excellent roster of readers on stage: Lura Smith, Paul Marion, Walter Bacigalupo, Effie Dragon, John Boutselis, Nancye Tuttle, Cathy O’Donnell, Michael Lally and Sara Bogosian (with Lew Karabatsos as the master of ceremonies) brought the cadence, timing and inflection of a professional theater cast to the readings. But the content was everything. There was humor, poignancy, great descriptions, more humor with everything seen through a Lowell lens.
Fortunately, a camera crew from Lowell Telecommunications was present, recording the entire evening for future playback (we’ll let you know when as soon as a date and time is set). In the meantime, check out the website of the Lowell Hellenic Heritage Association which has a number of Mary Sampas columns available online.
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A number of Mary’s columns also found their way in the online culture magazine “Bridge Review” that Paul Marion and I edited some years back. These are mainly personality sketches of people from 1958 – to 1959 – and whom you’re bound to remember. Cut and paste:
Not to sound trite, but I was honored to be invited to be a reader at the marvelous Mary Sampas tribute last night at the Whistler House. Mary always mentored and encouraged me during our years together at The Sun. And even though she was not in the newsroom, I always felt close to her, often having the opportunity to “input” her typewritten columns into the paper’s computer system, after she’d submitted the hard copy to the receptionist in our Kearney Square lobby. Occasionally, when I filled in as a copy editor when one of the editors was on vacation, I even got to edit her prosaic prose. I never changed a syllable and only checked for typos. My dearest Mary memory goes back to September, 2010, when I spent three or four hours with her in her Christian Hill home re-hashing the stories and connections she’d made in her long, long career. Jim Campanini had asked me to do a feature on Mary – the Helen Thomas of Lowell, he called her – for a front page Sun spread. Indeed, Mary was the Helen, Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Katie Coric and every other prominent female journalist’s counterpart on the Lowell scene. She loved the story I wrote and let me know it profusely. I was thrilled, of course. What a reward for a fellow female journalist who’ll always aspire, but likely never, reach the pinnacle that Mary Sampas did in long, prolific, successful career in Lowell.