Few people have touched more lives in the Bay Area than Mary Alys Cherry.
Since moving here 35 years ago, and joining The Bay Area Citizen and later becoming publisher of Bay Area Houston Magazine, she has mingled with most of the population, gotten to know their children and grandchildren and learned the history of the area.
And while she can’t recall when NASA Parkway was a two-lane road, rest assured this walking encyclopedia of the Bay Area knows those who drove it back then.
As the saying goes, she knows where all the bodies are buried, but manages to stay quite tight lipped about what she has learned, with the exception of information that needs to be published of course.
She’s covered most every event over the years, from fires and murders to city councils, Clear Creek ISD, charity balls and hundreds of community functions. She is on a first name basis with just about all the area mayors and many of the police and fire chiefs, city secretaries and community volunteers. In fact, it was the hard-working volunteers who gave so freely of their time that made her grow to love the Clear Lake community.
“Here these women were working hour after hour making our community a better place to live, helping our schools and churches and getting almost no credit. Meanwhile, their husbands’ pictures and stories were in the papers, but not the wives.’ I decided to correct the situation and set about publicizing their good work,” she says. “They loved it, and I got a tremendous amount of pleasure seeing their happiness.”
It was because of this devotion to the community that Nassau Bay Mayor Mark Denman presented her with a key to the city on behalf of his city council for her work covering the area over the years. This was very special to her, she said afterwards, as most city councils don’t list the media among their first loves.
She got her introduction to the Bay Area when she and her husband bought a cabin cruiser and moved from west Houston to Seabrook in the summer of 1979, only days before Tropical Storm Claudette flooded the area and stranded her on the Gulf Freeway for two days – without a camera.
But once she learned her way around, she was soon busy taking pictures and publicizing the area’s many social and civic events while working part-time at The Citizen and also at The Houston Post. Later, after The Post folded, she began working full-time at The Citizen and went on to become editor of the Bay Area newspaper for nearly a decade.
Some of the more prominent stories she covered were Hurricanes Alicia and Ike, Tropical Storms Allyson and Claudette, the loss of Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia, the quadruple murder of four young teens in Clear Lake’s Brook Forest, Andrea Yates’ drowning of her five young children in Clear Lake’s Camino South and Dr. Clara Harris of Friendswood running over her husband in the Nassau Bay Hilton parking lot.
Along the way, she has made so many friends who have helped her through life’s trials and tribulations, and gotten up close and personal with hundreds of famous people, building up quite a collection of photos.
Folks like Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Mike Collins, Alan Shepard, John Glenn and dozens of other astronauts, Presidents Bush 41 and 43 and their wives, President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds, John Denver, Nolan Ryan, Jeff Bagwall, Dan Pastorini, Warren Moon, author Judith McNaught and Willie Nelson. Plus, royals such as Prince Felipe – now King Felipe – of Spain, King Olaf of Norway, Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, Princes Charles and Andrew and their sister, Princess Anne.
A native of North Carolina, she grew up in Raleigh and earned her B.A. in Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she was managing editor of the student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel. After graduation, she was off to a summer of fun touring Europe with 30 of her UNC classmates and “probably one of the happiest times of my life,” she adds.
After four years in public relations, she began her newspaper career in Florida as news editor of The Panama City News-Herald, where she was a member of the five-man team that won the Pulitzer Prize for Community Service, and later held executive editing positions on the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, The Miami News, The Gainesville Sun and The Tampa Times. She also served as editor of The Sandhill Independent in Rockingham, N.C. Besides sharing the Pulitzer Prize, her front page layout design at The Tampa Times won first prize in the nation in the Edmund Arnold newspaper design contest, and she and her staff won many Texas press awards while editor of The Citizen.
Actually, she says, her newspaper career began when she was 6 years old. Wanting to be like her dad, who was a newspaper editor, she began drawing a newspaper each day, using the news she heard on the radio. She made five copies and sold them to her neighbors for a penny each. “Then I would take my five pennies and go buy a candy bar at the nearby store,” she laughs.
Over the years, she has served on the boards of the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Foundation, Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, Bay Area Houston Transportation Partnership and on the Advisory Boards of the Assistance League of the Bay Area and the South Bay Area Red Cross.
In 1993, the Bay Area Museum Guild honored her at its annual Silver Tea, and in 2000, she was the honoree at the Assistance League Ball of the Wild. She was presented the Bravo Award by the Bay Area Houston Ballet & Theatre in 2008, and was honored in 2010 as a Clear Creek ISD Super Star by the Clear Creek Education Foundation. In 2012, she was the recipient of the BAHEP Presidential Award, which had been presented only twice before in BAHEP’s 35-year history.
The love affair between our Bay Area Community and Mary Alys is ongoing, so I think I can speak for all of us and state that we want to have her in our lives for many years to come.
Thank you is not enough, but let’s say it anyway……….
THANK YOU, MARY ALYS!