Rachel Gilman: The Mary D Fund

rock, trees, and lake

I’ve been back on the mainland for about a month now, preparing to return to Block Island right before the academic year starts. In that time, I’ve been sifting through the interviews I conducted while their, editing them into profiles for each of the individuals I spoke with, trying to organize the story of isolated gentrification, gender politics, and how this unique community has handled both over the years. The women have told me some amazing stories of their time on Block Island. One name, interestingly enough, kept coming up, as a person that had had major influenced in the community.

Settler’s rock on Block Island to commemorate where the first colonists arrived.

This name was Mary D, and she is the final interview in my series of profiles.

Mary Donnelly came to Block Island at the start of the 1950s with her husband, planning to only stay a few months while he worked on getting her radio operator’s license. This plan quickly went by the wayside when residents on the island caught wind of the fact Mary D was a nurse. She became the first registered nurse on Block Island, and operated for many years as the only health professional there. Everything from birthing children to birthing cattle, Mary D was there to support. Her influence in the medical world on the island led to her building the first medical building on the island, where Mary D still works today at 89 years old!

A town tradition is painting this rock to celebrate events or to remember loved ones passed. It changes frequently.

Mary D has also become a sort of an angel on the island with the creation of her charity, the Mary D Fund. The fund goes to assist island residents in whatever way may be needed, from college scholarships to building parks to helping couples purchase their first home when their business might be struggling. In a way, the Mary D Fund is a reaction to the gentrification on the island, helping people stay afloat monetarily while they work to preserve the essence of the island as a whole.

Mary D’s story has also interested the world, being profiled on NBC, CBS, and in The New York Times, so I was extremely grateful to have part of her time, and to end my project’s “research” component with her impactful story.

Mary D and me talking inside the medical building she funded and built.