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Marylouise Hewitt, trailblazer for LGBTQ acceptance and 'everybody's mom'

Feb. 27, 1935 — July 12, 2018

Marylouise Hewitt worked for decades in New York City as the editor of the Education Index, a worldwide reference published by the H.W. Wilson Co.

She read and indexed so much information that she was unbeatable at Trivial Pursuit, said her son, Dr. Ross Hewitt.

But it was her loving heart and indomitable spirit that her friends in Western New York remember best. She was 83 when she died July 12 in her Lancaster home.

After moving to Buffalo in 1988, Ms. Hewitt became a board member and president of the group Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, offering support of and advocacy for gay, lesbian, transgender, HIV-positive and other marginalized people at a time when many were being rejected by both society and their own families.

Ms. Hewitt welcomed all at the Immunodeficiency Clinic operated by Dr. Hewitt at ECMC, where she worked as a receptionist from 1988 to 2004, and at her church, Pilgrim-St. Luke's United Church of Christ on the West Side, which she joined in 2004.

Her memorial service Sunday in Pilgrim-St. Luke's was packed with those she loved, said her friend Paula Jack.

"You could see that she was just everybody's mom to all the people who weren't accepted, whoever they were. All kinds of people were at that church service. Everybody who was there was accepted and loved, and particularly loved by Mary Hewitt. She was just an amazing woman."

"She was a trailblazer," said her friend Carol Speser, a fellow LGBTQ activist. "She was president of PFLAG at a time when very few parents would stand up and speak up on behalf of their gay kids. Now the world has changed, but it changed because of people like Mary, who were willing to stand up and say, 'This is wrong.' The world caught up."

Born in Reading, Pa., Ms. Hewitt was the daughter of Horace Mann, a Lutheran minister, and Florence Hermany Mann, and the older sister of Martha Pearson. Their older brother, William, died as a child.

Ms. Hewitt graduated from Kutztown State Teachers College (now Kutztown University), then earned a master's degree in library science from SUNY Geneseo State.

She moved to New York City in 1958 and for many years worked as the editor of the Education Index, reading and indexing articles from a wide variety of education-related journals, said Dr. Hewitt. "She read more than 300 publications on a regular basis," he said. "She would kick our butts when we played Trivial Pursuit with her."

Ms. Hewitt moved to Buffalo in 1988, but continued to work for the Education Index as a telecommuter for another 20 years, said Dr. Hewitt. "She was one of the first telecommuters in the country," he said.

She was also a voracious recreational reader with special interests in black history, science fiction, historical fiction and  mysteries.

Ms. Hewitt was married to Robert G. Hewitt from 1958 to 1977; he died in 2001. She was the partner of Cleveland Berry from 1978 until his death in 1986. "Those were the happiest years of her life," said her son, as she and Mr. Berry, a plumber, rented out rooms in a Harlem brownstone.

In Buffalo, Ms. Hewitt led PFLAG "for many, many years," said Dr. Hewitt. "Any time you needed the parent of a gay person to be present at a function, my mother was there."

She served on the first Pride Committee in the early 1990s, said Speser, helping organize the first public outdoor gay pride event in Buffalo and a reception sponsored by PFLAG afterward.

"She was also a lot of fun," said Speser. "She was a delight to work with, had a kind heart and she was funny." Working to change the system, Speser said, "takes a blend of grit and grace, and she had both. Mary was a fierce defender and advocate, but had a lovely light and lovely heart. That's what made her so special."

"She was important to so many people, and not just gay people," said Dr. Hewitt. "There are at least three or four families that called my mother 'Grandma Mary' because she was so kind to them and their kids."

Ms. Hewitt was an active member of Pilgrim-St. Luke's United Church of Christ, greeting people before services and volunteering twice a week in the church office. "She was really good at welcoming new people," said Dr. Hewitt. "She was really good with names, she kept a mental track of how many times a new person had attended."

Besides her son and her sister, she is survived by her daughter, Rachele Cruz, and a grandson.

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