Mary Longey ready for next act

MIDDLEBURY — If Middlebury is a stage, Mary Longey is its manager — especially when it comes to elementary school-age children and local theater/opera productions.
Now on the cusp of 60, the much beloved Longey is allowing the curtain to fall on her successful 28-year run as administrative assistant — aka the Swiss Army knife — of Mary Hogan Elementary School. She’s taking her bow in order to free up more time to volunteer with the Opera Company of Middlebury, the Middlebury Community Players and Town Hall Theater, where she will undoubtedly take numerous additional bows as stage manager par excellence.
“I love being that ‘go and fix the problem’ person,” Longey said during a Tuesday interview. “And that’s also why I like being a stage manager. When I am stage managing a show, it’s very simple — all the problems land in my lap. But to me, I don’t look at them as problems. I look at them as challenges, and I want to fix them all. Bring it on.”
Longey grew up in Westchester County, N.Y. She developed a keen interest in languages and literature. When it came time to pick a college, one visit to Middlebury in 1973 was all it took for Longey to make her selection.
“I fell in love with the town and the college,” she recalled, noting Middlebury’s longstanding reputation for language instruction. During her four years at Middlebury, she immersed herself in German, French and above all, Russian.
“I wanted to be an interpreter at the United Nations,” she said of her initial career goal.
But “life happens,” as they say, and Mary’s took a detour upon meeting the late Ernie Longey, former director of media services at the college. The two fell in love, and married in 1978 — the year she graduated  with a degree in Russian. Mary took great interest in her two stepchildren’s education at Mary Hogan, and she became an avid volunteer at what was a bustling school serving more than 600 students (there are now around 440). The couple would later welcome daughter Jennifer in 1980.
In 1981, Longey co-founded the Middlebury Elementary School Association (MESA), a coalition of parents committed to supporting Mary Hogan School. A talented musician, Longey would go into classrooms with her guitar to lead singing sessions, and was instrumental in setting up the annual ID-4 holiday concerts. She and Ernie helped set up a computer database of Mary Hogan students’ names and other basic information. Longey played a large role in the coordination of the KidSpace playground project on school grounds, an effort that involved around 1,300 volunteer builders.
Meanwhile, Longey was juggling child rearing with part-time work as a freelance editor and typist for college officials authoring books and dissertations. Her knowledge of several languages gave her a versatility that was in high demand.
“I had an IBM Selectric (typewriter) with removable elements for different languages,” she recalled with a smile. “If errors were made, you had to re-type it. Every dissertation I ever did I probably had to type three times.”
She picked up some hours teaching guitar, along with typing and taking orders at New Haven-based Champlin Associates. All of this led up to her first full-time gig at Mary Hogan Elementary in 1988. She would replace Sandy James, who was secretary to then-Principal Henry Scipione. Longey explained that James left to relocate closer to Essex Junction, where her husband had been transferred with the Vermont State Police.
“I had done some subbing for her, so Henry Scipione encouraged me to apply,” Longey said.
And the rest is history. She has been a foundational member of ID-4’s front office staff, working closely with the administrations of Principals Scipione, Bonnie Bourne, and now Tom Buzzell.
“I’ve always been somebody who needed to work for someone who would be willing to let me tell them my opinion,” Longey said with a chuckle. “I would always respect the fact that they made the decision and would go with whatever the decision was, but behind closed doors, I needed to be able to speak my mind. And I have been very fortunate to have had three principals and the various assistant principals be those kinds of people.”
While her title read “administrative assistant,” her job description expanded through the years to unofficially include such roles as “child comforter,” “opinion giver,” “public communications specialist,” “teacher supporter,” “website manager,” “temporary custodian of lost teeth” and “glitch fixer.”
One of her favorite tasks has been taking new Middlebury families on tours of the school, serving as a Mary Hogan Elementary ambassador.
“I really have looked at the job in a lot of ways as not just a job, but something I am doing for my community,” Longey said. “I care about the school, I care about the town of Middlebury, I love the kids and the families and I am so lucky to have been able to meet thousands of them over the decades.”
As one can imagine, Longey has accumulated some touching and humorous stories during her tenure at the Mary Hogan School. Her eyes light up as she hunches over her desk to serve up some stories that are OK for public consumption.
For example, she recalled how she used to be the lone staff member in the front office, responsible for conveying messages to classroom teachers through the intercom. There were times when she’d have to give a shout-out that a student’s forgotten lunch had been brought in by a parent and could be picked up “at your convenience.”
“One year, (former teacher) Tom O’Connor came in and told me that a student had come up to him and said, ‘Mr. O, where is your convenience?’” Longey said with a laugh.
For the uninitiated, the Mary Hogan School assigns color names to its buses to distinguish between the various routes they take. This is designed to help students make sure they get on the right bus.
It’s a color scheme that backfired for one child, as Longey recalled.
“The child came in crying and said, ‘I’m supposed to take the green bus, but all the buses out there are orange,’” Longey recounted.
Some students who lost teeth during the day would bring them to Longey for safekeeping until the end of the day. She would give the child a hug and tuck the tooth safely away in an envelope.
“Somehow the ‘lost tooth’ thing became my job,” Longey said, beaming as she remembered a phone call from her mom several years ago during which she asked, “How many teeth did you collect this week?”
But not every day has brought sunshine, Longey said. Some were clouded by the deaths of teachers and students, providing traumatic news for the students — and entire Mary Hogan community — to somehow absorb and reconcile. There was also 9-11, and the tragic double-murder/suicide case at the Pine Meadows development that resulted in the school being placed on lock-down until the shooter’s status could be confirmed.
“Those are things that shake the foundation of a community,” Longey said. “But as difficult as those times were, they were the times when you realized how much the Mary Hogan community comes together… ”
She’ll miss being a full-time presence at the school.
“I love working with a bunch of educators who really put kids first,” Longey said. “I think Mary Hogan is really good at that, that in whatever decision we make, we say, ‘Where do children fit into that?’”
Mary Hogan officials said Longey’s presence and contributions to the school will be tough to replace.
“Mary Longey leaves a legacy of tireless commitment and exemplary service to the Mary Hogan School community,” Buzzell said. “Through her professional work she has enriched the lives of the students here at the school. While we are happy for Mary as she pursues new challenges and adventures, she will be missed. Mary is helping us train our new administrative assistant, but we plan to keep Mary on speed dial for while.”
ID-4 Chairwoman Ruth Hardy echoed those sentiments.
“She’s been an important part of every initiative, administration, committee, celebration, annual meeting, and school day since the early 1980s,” Hardy said. “I can think of no one else who’s been so involved for so long, and dedicated so much to the smooth operations of our school. Mary Hogan would not be Mary Hogan without Mary Longey. She’s a gem, and will be very missed by our school community.”
Hardy added Longey has been “instrumental” in forging an educational partnership between the school and THT, through which students get to witness and perform Shakespeare plays. Hardy has approached THT Executive Director Doug Anderson about making a collective gift to the theater’s education fund in Longey’s honor. The fund provides scholarships to children, many from Mary Hogan School, who would like to participate in the THT programs but cannot afford the tuition, Hardy noted. 
Those wishing to contribute can mail their checks to THT, P.O .Box 128, Middlebury, Vt. 05753 and note the gift is in honor of Longey.
THT officials added their voices in praise of Longey, who will now become an even greater asset to theater/opera activities.
“Mary is the person you’d want on your team in case of a zombie apocalypse.” THT Operations Manager Haley Rice said. “She has an insane work ethic, is incredibly organized, very talented and is also kind, smart and funny. She should be president. I can’t say enough good things about her.”
Anderson noted Longey was the first recipient of THT’s Volunteer of the Year Award.
“But that just doesn’t do her justice,” Anderson said. “She’s been absolutely essential to THT for 20 years, producing and stage managing countless productions, staying up endless hours to create programs and staff shows and worrying about budgets and doing all of the background things that never get applause – and doing all of this on a volunteer basis.  She is tireless and generous and fearless when she needs to be. It’s no exaggeration to say that we wouldn’t have a Town Hall Theater – or, at least, a successful THT – without Mary Longey.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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