Waterman-Langone at Boston Harborside

580 Commercial Street, Boston, MA


Mary Sanderson

December 7, 1958August 23, 2019

Mary Cushman Sanderson, born December 7, 1958, in Worcester, Massachusetts, deceased August 23, 2019, surrounded by love and infused with the peace of a life well lived. A retired environmental manager at the United States Environmental Protection Agency, beloved and deeply respected by her friends and colleagues, Mary left the planet cleaner and every person she met better off for having known her. Daughter of Florence Witkowsky Sanderson and John Cushman Sanderson, Mary grew up in West Boylston, Massachusetts. She had what she described as “a happy, throwback childhood of birthday cake and birthday hats around the kitchen table,” attending West Boylston Middle-Junior-High School where she began a lifetime of athletic passions and everlasting friendships. Mary achieved a BS in Civil Engineering from University of Massachusetts Amherst, followed by a Master’s Degree in Applied Management at Lesley University, on a scholarship award while employed at the U. S. EPA. Part of her formative years at UMass included a stint as a D.J. at a small local radio channel. Her distinctive voice carried on as a voice of reason at the U.S. EPA. She took great pride in being among exceptionally committed colleagues, working to make lasting strides in environmental protection. She was a highly respected leader and champion for U.S. EPA’s staff and New England’s environment. She was a creative, high energy, no-nonsense manager who led hazardous waste regulatory and cleanup programs in New England for over three decades. Her technical expertise and knowledge of the programs made her an invaluable resource to colleagues across the country as they tackled complex, regulatory issues. She was recruited to work at U.S. EPA’s headquarters in Washington, DC, and accepted another appointment as Special Assistant to the U.S. EPA Regional Administrator, both of which only added to her positive impact on the agency and the environment. She invariably volunteered for holiday duty to relieve her colleagues and to attend to emergency needs, which seemed to arise regularly enough that she planned for them in her inimitably organized manner. Mary was a nationally-recognized expert and pioneer in leading U.S. EPA’s efforts to turn former hazardous waste sites into economic and recreational assets for municipalities. She took particular pride in her role managing resources to decommission military bases such as Massachusetts Military Reservation, Fort Devens and Pease Airforce Base, and transform them into vibrant and clean civilian communities. She saw her life’s work as advancing the public interest in a clean environment and resolving myriad conflicts as humans and the environment strive to co-exist. Mary, a voice of reason and experience, was a highly sought after mentor who had a special ability to be a professional advisor and compassionate confidante. In this mentoring role she guided countless students, staff, and supervisors across the U.S. EPA, enhancing their career development, job satisfaction and productivity. She took great pride in watching her past mentees become leaders within the agency. She was awarded Manager and Mentor of the Year just before her retirement in 2015. Her colleagues speak of her with tremendous respect and gratitude for her unwavering support for their work and individual growth as professionals. She left a broad and deep legacy of professionals and sound environmental management systems, and transformational improvements throughout New England so future generations could thrive. Mary was also a life-long athlete. For six decades, she skied, swam, ran, biked, hiked, went scuba diving and greatly enjoyed Master’s Swimming at Charles River Park Athletic Club and triathlons throughout the area. Mary lived in a series of Beacon Hill condominiums, and most recently in the North End of Boston. She loved home renovations and transformed every place in which she lived, so it would be in better shape than when she found it. She had a uniquely elegant and understated style, which she described as “beige on beige with touches of peach and aqua, with a discrete spot of leopard,” and was a tremendously welcoming person, always prepared for the many friends who felt so at ease and cared for in her company. Her neighbors were thrilled to have a project manager for matters as disparate as roof replacements and financial planning for maintenance of shared condominium areas. She vigorously reaped the benefits of living in downtown Boston, walking to work and organizing her time carefully to allow for plenty of exercise and entertainment. She hosted many rooftop gatherings for the famous Boston July 4th celebrations and gardened in the city and on her rooftops. Mary’s zest for life and wild side found plenty of expression over many years of good times. Mary also felt very privileged to own a sweet, classic old wooden beach cottage on Cape Cod for a time and made it a haven for her and her friends for over twenty years. It held a special spot in her heart in no small part because it was initially shared with her beloved mother, Flo. One reason Mary was unusually calm and centered, long before the phrase “living in the moment” became popular, is she always noticed the little things in daily life, especially ones which people had taken time to contribute to the neighborhood. She would often point out lovely window boxes or Cape flowers in full bloom, exclaiming “would you LOOK at that azalea!” mid-stride. Mary was an inveterate world traveler, carefully planning at least one significant adventure each year. She has spent time in over fifty countries, usually with at least one treasured companion to share the joy of being a traveler rather than a tourist, together seeing the area through the eyes of others around them. Mary didn’t take many photographs. She made memories, wherever she went and with whomever she was with. Mary’s friends are too numerous to name, as she was dearly loved by many. She had several long term special relationships and a brief marriage. She is survived by several cousins in Massachusetts and Maine, and many loved ones throughout the world. “Pretty good shape for the shape I’m in” was a favorite reply of Mary’s when greeted with the commonplace ‘how are you?” She never complained, even while battling several forms of cancer for six years. She was astonished by the quality of care and compassion at Massachusetts General Hospital, in particular from the nurses, aides and doctors in oncology. Donations would be welcome from any who are able to the “Mary C. Sanderson Endowed Fund for Multiple Myeloma in honor of Elizabeth K. O’Donnell, MD”, 55 Fruit Street, Boston, MA 02114. Her final journey from this earth will be followed by a Celebration of Life at a Boston location around December 7, 2019, time and place to be announced.


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Mary Sanderson

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August 27, 2019

Mary was a very special lady always with a welcoming smile and kind word for all. She was taken far too soon. Peace and Love, Cathy Martens Hastings

Jerrianne Anastos

August 24, 2019

So many wonderful memories of moments like this spanning years with Mary Sanderson. She was the truest, bravest, most genuine friend a girl could have. I will forever be grateful for time spent with Mary, including these last few months when nothing was left unsaid between us. Rest easy, my friend, and fly free; I will miss you always, xoxo

Douglas Pike

August 23, 2019

Energetic, enthusiastic, dedicated, adventurous, directive but caring and all crowned by a distinctively commanding voice! It is difficult to think of Mary without use of the exclamation point! The Environment could not have designed a better friend! Mary was an outgoing force of nature and a natural for The Iron Girl Triathlon which she often participated in. "You will be missed" is an understatement!

Jamy Madeja

August 23, 2019

Mary has been such a phenomenal friend, someone I respect so highly. I hope this obituary begins to describe her for others. I loved her insight and calm comfort. I also loved getting kicked out of a bar together on my 40th birthday. I loved her zest for life and most of all her love for all her friends.