A Tribute to Mary K. Carrasco
By Aaron Brophy

A Tribute to Mary K. Carrasco

For the past decade Mary Carrasco has been quietly and thoughtfully shepherding Sidwell Friends School. Her daily efforts may go unnoticed by most students and teachers, but Mary’s discerning sense of continuing revelation has benefitted all of us. As the Former Assistant Head of School for Advancement, Mary is a confidant of Sidwell Head of School, Bryan Garman, who in recent years has navigated some challenging times--politically, economically, and socially. Mary’s steady hand and consummate professionalism were especially valuable during the pandemic, which required the considerable collective bandwidth of the Administrative Team and the Board.

Commenting on her recent retirement, Bryan made some heartfelt remarks, citing Mary’s work-ethic and their evolving friendship.  In other more formal prose, Bryan described Mary thus: “Generous of heart and spirit, Mary is someone I can always rely upon to lead tirelessly with wisdom, conscience, and foresight.  She has garnered the respect of our entire school community.”  Of course, Mary was instrumental in raising funds for the purchase and renovation of the Upton Street property, which will result in the long-term vision of a more unified campus experience for Sidwell students.  However, the expansion of the physical plant is only part of Mary’s legacy.  Her contribution to Sidwell Friends School transcends fundraising campaigns and real estate transactions.  Mary’s impact on Sidwell is best measured through the people she touched.

During my first meeting with Mary, she expressed enthusiastic support for our art program, in particular the curriculum that celebrates light literally and metaphorically within the context of a Friends education.  That was the very beginning of a mentorship, a partnership, and a friendship that I hold in the highest regard.  It seems that every time we cross paths, Mary finds a way to share additional wisdom that I can use in the classroom, in the art gallery, and beyond.  In one of our last meetings this spring, Mary explained to me that “people give to success.”  Mary’s ability to harness the creative energy of others and channel it toward shared institutional goals is attributable to her keen sense of stewardship.  Mary’s passionate approach to her work was to the benefit of all those she mentored throughout her career.  In her own words, “If you can wake up every day and know that your work matters, I found it to give my life meaning and purpose… and a lot of friends.”

Mary’s personal educational experience paved the way for her career as a steward of notable universities and independent schools, including Maret, Aiglon College in Switzerland, Virginia Tech, Georgetown University, Mercersburg Academy, and for the past decade Sidwell Friends School.  Mary’s formative years as a student at Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, Delaware inculcated her commitment to serving others.  The school motto “Serviam” means “I will serve.”  Adapting, empathizing, and serving with resilience has been Mary’s leadership style for as long as I’ve known her.  Mary’s sense of community was fostered by positive educational experiences.  She states, “My independent school experience affirmed for me the important value of relationships to learning. The teachers and nuns who affirmed me, encouraged me, and let me know when I could do better were essential to the formation of my sense of self-confidence… Mostly, I learned how to live and work in a community.”

While working in the field of philanthropy for four decades, Mary has also served over twenty years on the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.  As a CASE committee member, trustee, and a faculty member at the Summer Institute for Educational Fundraising, her expansive influence within the field of  advancement was recognized in 2019 when Mary received the prestigious Robert Bell Crow Award.  Helen Colson, Sidwell alumna and our Former Associate Head for Development and Planning, had the privilege of presenting the Crow Award to Mary.  Helen has long admired Mary Carrasco’s work even before Mary came to Sidwell.  “Mary exemplifies the best in our profession.  She understands that philanthropy is not just about raising money, but also about bringing together a donor and a school that is joyful and rewarding for each.”  Helen went on to explain, “Helping as a teacher and mentor is one of Mary’s most generous roles… In a soft voice and with a gentle manner, she helps her compatriots solve problems and she recommends new initiatives.  If you are discouraged when you begin a conversation with Mary, you will leave with new energy and confidence.”  Helen Colson’s description of Mary that reflects her positive attitude and aspirational thinking is a view shared by her Sidwell colleagues. 

Gabriela Guerra, Senior Director of Engagement, is responsible for the stewardship of the annual Rubenstein Visiting Artist Program.  Gabriela describes Mary Carrasco as someone who “inspires and leads by example through her tremendous work-ethic.  During the pandemic, through the Zoom calls and through myriad transition meetings, Mary worked right up to the last hour on the last day of her tenure at Sidwell to ensure she left our school better than she found it.” 

Mary’s life-lessons and her aspirational audacity are part of the legacy of mentorship of which Gabriela attests.  In Mary’s own words, “When I reflect on why independent schools have been the focus of my career, it is because of the importance of great teachers.  Advancement professionals who stay grounded in the belief that education changes lives and is necessary for our society will be successful and will ensure that independent schools prepare students for ethical and active citizenship.”

Mary’s commitment to the power of art and community is not unique to her time at Sidwell Friends School.  At Mercersburg Academy she was instrumental in the fundraising and design of The Burgin Center for the Arts, a massive 65,000 square foot facility, replete with high ceilings and luminous atriums.  Mary’s partnership with the Sidwell art program has been extensive.  Through her encouragement and engagement of alumni and parent networks, Sidwell has celebrated the work of many notable artists who have exhibited in our gallery, have engaged with our students, and have been featured in our studio art classes.

Over the years, with the encouragement of Mary Carrasco through the art curriculum, through the Daryl Reich Rubenstein Art Gallery, through the visiting artist program, through the Admissions office, Communications and the Advancement teams, Sidwell Friends has benefitted from the goodwill and the enthusiasm that she has cultivated during a decade of service.

Thank you, Mary, for being a friend of the arts and for sharing your legacy with us as a dedicated steward for Sidwell Friends.  Serviam.