The Notre Dame community loses one of its cherished members on Friday with the retirement of Mary Cowsert, who has served the Notre Dame Law School community for the past 19 years. As supervisor of the Kresge Law Library’s circulation desk, Mary is a familiar, ever-smiling face and a friend to many students, professors, and staff.
Mary’s immediate family and much of her extended family moved to South Bend from the South while she was young because of the jobs available at Notre Dame. Her mother, father, sister, and two brothers all contributed to various parts of the university community, from South Dining Hall and the Huddle to Ave Maria Press and “Vetville,” the former university housing for married World War II veterans and their families built in the wake of the GI Bill.
Mary began working at Notre Dame when she was just 14, making mountains of ham sandwiches during football weekends. She later worked as a lab technician and at the Notre Dame bookstore during football weekends.
Mary worked at the main Hesburgh Library from 1979 until one day in 1993 when she received a phone call. The head of access services, librarian Carmela Kinslow, asked whether she was interested in a job at the law library.
“I came to look around,” said Mary. “At that point, the circulation desk was still quite small. I liked it, but I looked around and wondered, ‘Is there enough to keep me busy?’”
“Needless to say, they kept me busy,” Mary said with a smile. “To this day, I will never regret coming over [to the law library]. I’ve met so many wonderful people who I would not otherwise have met. They’ve opened their doors to me here.”
Switching from the large main library to the smaller law library suited Mary’s personal approach.
“Here I have the chance to work one on one with students and really get to know people – staff and students – personally,” she said.
Mary expressed gratitude for the opportunity to work at Notre Dame.
“I started off as a shelver [of books] and became a supervisor,” she said. “Notre Dame was about giving you a chance and believing in you.”
Those who have worked with Mary, however, also know how much the university community has benefited from her service.
Notre Dame Law Professor Gerard Bradley has known Mary “since the day she arrived for work in the law library.”
“Since then and every day without exception, Mary has been efficient in taking care of my requests for materials, even when I needed odd items from distant libraries,” Bradley said. “She has always been a willing and enjoyable conversationalist and, with Carm Kinslow, has made the library ‘circ desk’ a model of service. That Mary has supervised several of my own children as library workers gives me added reason to say that she will be sorely missed.”
Another law professor, Matthew Barrett, echoed Bradley’s comments.
“Mary was always helpful, kind, and friendly,” Barrett said. “You could depend upon her to fulfill a request for information or materials with promptness. I will miss her smile, dedication, and her positive attitude. Our oldest son worked under Mary in the law library for two summers. She was a generous and gracious supervisor.”
Student workers as well as professors attest to Mary’s warm personality and talents as a supervisor.
“I love working with Mary, because she always has a smile on her face,” sophomore Sarah Burt said. “She is friendly to everyone she sees without fail, and is always willing to help…She is definitely the most understanding person I have ever had the pleasure to work with.”
Fellow sophomore Michael Bradley believes that Mary’s “patience and friendliness is palpable to everyone who comes into contact with her.”
“Since first meeting her this past summer, Mary has always struck me as one of the kindest, most genuinely happy persons I know,” Bradley said. “Everyone will miss her warm and pleasant demeanor.”
“She is willing to help anyone, and she does it with a smile,” senior Morgan Pino commented. “Mary makes an effort to learn students’ names and create a family environment in the law library where everyone feels at home. At the same time, she pays special attention to detail and makes sure that everything is running perfectly smoothly to make the library as comfortable and professional as possible for the law students.”
Anyone who has worked a day knows the importance of a good boss. A student worker at the law library since the first week of my freshman year, I am grateful to have come to know Mary first as a talented and considerate supervisor and eventually as a treasured friend. Professor Barrett spoke for all who know Mary: “We wish her, her husband, and their family many blessings in her retirement.”
It will be a struggle for Claire Gillen to report for work on Monday. Contact her at email@example.com.