Mary Leola Gaddis was born to Mac and Leola Gaddis in San Luis Obispo, California, on August 13, 1949. She was the oldest of three with a brother James and a sister Nancy. Her father was an engineer for the Southern Pacific Railroad, so the family moved around California frequently during her childhood, living in San Luis, Edna, San Jose, Bakersfield, and finally settling in Campbell where she completed high school. Whether it was an innate trait or came from starting over in new schools so often, Mary had a flair for meeting folks where they were and immediately getting to the heart of who they were. At Campbell High School, Mary played field hockey, was the school mascot, and played bass in the orchestra. She started college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and though she never got a degree, she was “in school” for the rest of her life. Her love of learning and of teaching grew out of her relationships with her aunts Jean and Madolyn during their long summers in Newport Beach each year. Mary seldom was without a book in her hand or her pocket.
While living in San Luis Obispo as a college student, Mary met and married Bob Adams. He was in the army and soon after they married, he was transferred to Germany. Mary left school and went to Germany with Bob in the early 1970s. Though supportive of her husband, Mary vehemently opposed the Vietnam War and got involved with anti-war activities in Germany. Bob was soon reposted to Vietnam and Mary always suspected his reassignment was a direct result of her actions. She returned to California and continued anti-war and anti-nuclear activism in the San Luis Obispo area. No longer in school, Mary worked as a cook first for the Cal Poly dorms and then in a local restaurant. She was among the early members of Another Mother For Peace who protested against the building of a nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon.
Mary and Bob were married for about 10 years. When he returned from Vietnam they built a house together in the Santa Cruz Mountains. During those years Mary came to understand herself as a lesbian. Always the activist, she spent some of her early lesbian years in association with lesbian separatists, but her love for the men in her life (Bob, Mac, Jim and many others) prevented her from embracing separatism. She began, instead, to agitate within The United Methodist Church for equality for gays and lesbians. Along with Jim Scurlock, Mary used her position on the California-Nevada Conference Commission on the Status & Role of Women in the early 1980s to bring the subject of homophobia to the discussion during annual conference sessions. Their vocal supporters in those days were few.
While attending a national conference of the Women's Division of the General Board of Global Ministries she met Dick Cash who told her about Affirmation: United Methodists for Gay & Lesbian Concerns and invited her to their next gathering. Mary participated in Affirmation's meeting in Indianapolis in the fall of 1979 to prepare for the group's witness during the General Conference of the United Methodist Church in May 1980. She became a regular participant in Affirmation’s semiannual meetings during the 1980s and 1990s and served as co-spokesperson for eight years.
Despite issues with both the politics and theology of the institutional church, Mary had deep roots in and loyalty to Methodism. She was a life-long member of the United Methodist Church and served in many ways. In addition to the Commission on Status & Role of Women, Mary served as a Conference Trustee for several years and was a member of the District United Methodist Women. Yet one of the things that gave her the most joy was cooking meals for the elders at Epworth UMC in Berkeley where she transferred her membership after she and Judy became partners.
A staunch union woman, Mary began working in the construction field as a laborer and carpenter around age 30. After four years as a pipe trades apprentice, she became the first female steamfitter with Plumbers & Pipefitters JATC, Local 393 in San Jose and worked with them throughout the rest of her life. In 1985 with her partner Judy and an old high school friend, Mary founded Women Empowering Women to teach women construction skills and promote equality in the workplace. Together they ran a summer camp and weekend workshops for several years. She also took her hands-on style of teaching to jails, YWCAs, elementary schools, and community colleges around the Bay Area. In later years she was the Construction Technology teacher at Kennedy High School in Richmond. Her students were her passion.
Mary was a member of the Coalition for Equity in the Trades; East Bay Community Job Coalition; Women in the Workforce 2000-Bay Area Network; and the Santa Clara County Strategic Vision Task Force. With her strong labor credentials she testified before the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation, in Queretaro, Mexico; the California Women Legislators Caucus; the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor; the California State Legislative Labor Commission; the California Apprenticeship Council; and the Little Hoover Commission hearing on issues concerning women in the trades.
Mary met her life partner, Judy Cayot in October, 1982, at Epworth UMC--Judy's home church--where Mary was speaking on behalf of a newly formed Conference Committee on Homosexuality. (Within a year that committee’s name was changed to Conference Committee on Homophobia.) After the workshop, Judy joined Mary for dinner where Mary invited her to attend the next national meeting of Affirmation to be held in Los Angeles. They were two of four women at the Spring 1983 Affirmation meeting with over sixty men. Mary and Judy were together for twenty-three years. Mary shared in the raising of Judy’s two daughters and was thrilled when she became a grandmother in 1995.
Mary was a woman of boundless energy and directed much of that energy toward creating a more inclusive, justice-seeking church and society. She cared deeply about a great many social justice issues—participating in anti-war activity during the Vietnam and subsequent wars, anti-nuclear protests, efforts to overturn anti-gay legislation, and more. Mary was a woman who lived on the edge—always asking questions and challenging assumptions. She found purpose and solidarity with folks at the margins of society. Mary was large of heart, spirit, and generosity. She had great gratitude for the life she was given and a firm belief that we are all one—what affects any one of us, affects us all.
On March 17, 2006, Mary was in a serious car accident. After ten days recovering in Intensive Care, she died unexpectedly from complications following surgery on March 27, 2006. As life-partner Judy noted at her memorial service: Mary was my best friend, co-parent to our children, grandma to Adrik, my rooting section, my collaborator in work and play, my biggest challenge, and my dancing partner. She was the most complex simple person I have known.
(This biographical statement written by Judy Cayot with assistance from Mark Bowman.)
Biography Date: March, 2012
Affirmation: United Methodists for LGBTQ Concerns recorded this interview with Mary Gaddis and Ellie Charlton at the 2004 General Conference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyIEyjEpp3c
Methodist (UMC, United Methodist Church) | Affirmation (United Methodist) | Activist (religious institutions) | U.S. Military | Women and Religion | California
“Mary Gaddis | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed June 02, 2023, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/mary-gaddis.
“I met Mary when I was a teenager attending my first Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church in Redding in the late 1970’s. Coming from Wesley United Methodist Church in Fresno, one of the first Reconciling Congregations in the US, the old school, antiquated, mean church brought me into full-on culture shock. I got involved with Mary’s work for full inclusion and always felt like she saw who I was on a soul level.I saw in her a disciple of Jesus, as I was becoming, who can cut through the crap. At General Conference in 1980, and further church work, Mary and I kept up a solid bond of friendship, respect, and carefree enjoyment of one another. Around 1979 Judy Cayot and I became friends at a United Methodist Young Adult Camp. When Mary and Judy later became partners my reaction was —of course — they are two great women who make a marvelous couple. After my disabling brain injury in 1994 took me out of the pastoral ministry, Mary promoted my artwork and we shared our deeper than words experiences through brain injury and the Spirit. We were amazingly keyed into one another. In 2004 she worked side-by-side with me —such great times! — to create the Table of Tears. (http://adventuresinhealing.com/table-of-tears-slideshow/), a stained glass table about the history of church prejudice and healing. Mary is such a big part of my life, and I am grateful.”
– as remembered by Donna Fado Ivery on April 20, 2016
“Mary was my mom, well, my "co-mom" (I already had a "step-mom" and neither of us like the sound of that anyway). I have too many memories to recount just one. Mary taught me to be honest, sometimes brutally. Mary taught me to stand up for what is right. Mary taught me to be silly (though I was pretty good at it already) and to always appreciate taking the "scenic route" (when we were lost). She is still impacting people long after her death - my handyman recently said (he never met her but has seen much of her work while working on my house - her house) - "If I were stuck on a desert island, I'd want to be stuck with Mary. She was really resourceful!" She was an incredible person, an advocate for justice, a wonderful teacher, and a most lovable cuddly lion.”
– as remembered by Heather McFarland on August 13, 2014
“I first met Mary at the Common Witnesslunch at the United Methodist General Conference 2000 in Cleveland. As I recall, I arrived on my birthday, May 4, a fact which Mary somehow learned, resulting in her leading the assembled in singing me Happy Birthday. It was a wonderful way for me to be welcomed into that loving community. I vividly remember how she was the 'life of the party' in that lunchroom setting with half of her face painted white. I never did learn why she did that; perhaps it was a sign to the rest of the world that part of her had to be hidden in many settings. Later, during that conference we became demonstration buddies, standing beside one another with 26 other demonstrators across the front of convention hall. I remember her mentioning that she had a metal plate in her head which made her concerned that she not get hit by a police baton or in a tumble during some kind of disturbance. I have a picture taken during that demonstration; it holds special memories. It was an honor to be arrested with Mary. I loved her sense of humor, her willingness to be 'out there', her commitment to the UMC and to justice. I was honored a couple of summers later when she and Judy, on their travels in Washington state, visited me in my rental cottage on a Whidbey Island bluff above Puget Sound. Another vivid memory was at General Conference 2004 in Pittsburgh when she told early Affirmation stories during our special coalition gathering at a local church.”
– as remembered by Larry Fox on March 29, 2012
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