Aug. 22, 1919 – July 15, 2017
Seeking relief from the stress of raising 10 children, Mary E. Cotter in the late 1960s trained her eye and paintbrush on the landscapes and waterscapes of Western New York.
She stole an afternoon once a week and set up her easel in grassy fields with her mentor, prominent local watercolorist Robert Blair, and a group of fellow mothers.
It began a lifelong passion resulting in her paintings hanging not only in the homes of her family but also in those of purchasers from coast to coast.
Mrs. Cotter, accomplished artist, teacher and matriarch of a large North Buffalo family, died Saturday in Buffalo General Medical Center after a brief illness. She was 38 days shy of her 98th birthday and, until late last month, was actively involved in life from her Canadian summer home in Fort Erie’s Crescent Park.
“She was born before women had the right to vote,” said her youngest son, Andrew Cotter. “Her birthdate was between the time Congress passed the 19th Amendment and the time it was ratified by the requisite number of states.”
Born in Scranton, Pa., the former Mary Elizabeth Maghran first moved to Buffalo in the late 1920s when her father was transferred here by the Pillsbury Co. She attended Nardin Academy, living on Highland Avenue and making what would be lifelong friends before her father was relocated to Philadelphia. She graduated from West Philadelphia Catholic Girls High School.
She majored in education at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and was working toward her master’s degree in the field when her parents moved back to Buffalo in the early 1940s. She worked as a kindergarten teacher at St. Mary’s School for the Deaf and as a secretary at Bell Aircraft before marrying Dr. Paul Barry Cotter in St. Mark Catholic Church in 1946, soon after the end of World War II.
“She had trouble getting enough silk for her wedding dress,” her son, Andrew, said. “It had all gone to parachutes.”
Dr. Cotter, an obstetrician-gynecologist who would go on to deliver more than 9,000 Buffalo-area babies, was serving in the Army Medical Corps, which took the newlyweds to bases in San Antonio, Denver and Tacoma before they settled in Buffalo in 1948. They lived in South Buffalo before buying a house next to Mrs. Cotter's parents, at 136 Jewett Parkway in North Buffalo, where the couple remained until 1986.
When triplets were born in 1956, Mrs. Cotter had eight children under eight years old in her care. It was after the birth of her ninth child that Mrs. Cotter turned to art, an early love – working in pastel and charcoal drawing and later moving to the watercolors for which she is best known.
She studied with prominent Western New York artists George Palmer and Blair, meeting weekly with Blair and the group of fellow artists for more than 30 years.
During that time, Mrs. Cotter began teaching art as a volunteer at St. Mark School and at Central Presbyterian Church. She was president of the Williamsville Art Society for several terms, and a longtime exhibiting member of the Albright-Knox Members Gallery.
An animal lover and rescuer as well, Mrs. Cotter was known as “her own SPCA,” her son, Andrew, said. “She was always befriending and finding decent homes for dogs and cats.”
Also a lover of music, Mrs. Cotter sang soprano for a number of years in the St. Mark Choir, and, in more recent times, in the choir of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church near her winter home in Melbourne Beach, Fla. She drove until the age of 90, and didn’t use a cane till she was 96.
Mrs. Cotter’s husband died in 2003. Their daughter, Jane G., died in 1968 and another daughter, Mary Elizabeth “Tish,” also a fine artist, in 2013. A grandson, John O., died in 2008.
Survivors besides her son, Andrew, who was her caretaker for the past 13 years, are five other sons, Timothy M., Dr. Paul B. Jr., J. Patrick, Robert I., and Daniel J.; two daughters, Ellen J., and Dr. Nancy, Mrs. Cotter’s longtime personal physician; a sister, Grace E. “Lolly” Lenahan; a brother, Irving C. Maghran; and eight grandchildren and a great-grandson.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 22 in St. Mark Church, 401 Woodward Ave.