Mary Kay Parker Deen

Tuesday, May 5, 2015 1:20 pm

Mary Kay Parker Deen, beloved member of the Bay St. Louis, Miss. community, passed away April 19, 2015, in Decorah, with her daughter Parker Deen and her caregiver and friend Britney Bakken holding her hands. Parker noted that “she flew free of her sweet earthly body like a thousand butterflies.” A Celebration of Life for Mary Kay is planned for June 4 in Bay St. Louis.

Mary Kay was born March 18, 1942, in New Albany, Miss. to Estelle Daniel Parker and John Ambrose Parker. She attended the University of Mississippi, earning a bachelor’s degree in education. After over 40 years of teaching, she retired from North Bay Elementary School, in Bay St. Louis, Miss. Mary Kay was most at home in nature. She had beautiful childhood memories of walks in the woods, sitting on her Daddy’s shoulders, listening to birds and singing Zip-a-dee-doo-dah. Friends looked forward to her daily rejoicing in the songs and antics of the birds, whether on Facebook or in her journal, “Birds, robins, finches and sparrows played in the mulch and trees. Oh how they remind me to shed limitations and just in faith spread my wings.” When Katrina demolished her house, she designed and built another house with plush gardens and a deck in the sunshine where she and her puppies could sit for hours. A published author, Mary Kay wrote with passion and intensity about teaching. “I intend to give children an education centered upon justice and community, one that models respect and dignity,” she wrote. “Every child will leave my classroom with his or her spirit intact. No child will be limited because of standardization or controlled by competition.” 

As one of the first teachers to participate in Rural Voices Radio, Mary Kay asked her students to observe a favorite place in nature over time, and afterward, they wrote and recorded their observations. Her students speak of the wonder and awe she inspired in them. During her career, Mary Kay was invited to participate in the South Mississippi Writing Project in Hattiesburg where she quickly became a leader among her colleagues, giving workshops and attending national meetings, including conferences in England and The Netherlands. Later, Mary Kay became the first co-director of the writing project site at the University of South Mississippi Gulf Coast. One of her colleagues, Robin Atwood, describes the kind of leadership Mary Kay brought to the project: “She made me feel that I was an expert.  Mary Kay was an expert at making people feel like experts. She made everyone want to live up to it.” 

After retirement, Mary Kay continued to work for social justice and opportunity for all. She was a volunteer and board member for her local Habitat for Humanity and Women’s Center, as well as a member of the Board of Directors of Pneuma Winds of Hope, particularly working for the success of the Starfish Cafe, where students receive hands-on training in restaurant and life skills. Director Di Fillhart says, “Mary Kay was in the role of mentor, encouraging students to open up their lives. She supported each student from interview to graduation.” 

Mary Kay had a small family of birth relatives, but a huge family of friends, her “chosen family”, whom she adored. She loved entertaining and spent fun filled days laughing, sharing time together, and going on many adventures with her dear friends. Treasured times were spent creating with her grandsons just being together, watching them explore, draw, make music, sing and grow. Through her healing journey, Mary Kay was cared for at Gulfport Memorial Hospital, MD Anderson in Houston, Texas, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. and Hospice in Decorah. She truly appreciated the care she received from each place and the love and concern they had for her healing. She had a smile and a noticing of something special about almost all of the providers she had, from the Doctors to the Custodians, all were important. During her time in Rochester, Minn., Mary Kay stayed at the Gift of Life Transplant House. Through her sparkling eyes, radiant smile, positive words, encouragement and artistic endeavors, she lifted the spirits of many, who were each dealing with their own struggles and illnesses. She seemed to truly change the lives of each person she met. Mary Kay’s spirit of joy, peace, hope, and compassion provides sanctuary and inspiration for her family, friends, students, and colleagues. She has been light for this world.  

Mary Kay leaves her adoring daughter, Parker (Matthew); her dearly-loved grandchildren: Oran, Aidan and Finn Deen-Lester; brother, Jack Coley; nieces, Patricia Coley, Jackie Gorman (Scott); nephews, Jody Baker (Joy) and John Baker (Susan); along with many friends and colleagues and the students she so lovingly taught.

She was preceded in death by her husband, Inmond Deen; her parents; and her sister, Betty Coley Baker. 

Those who would like to donate to her favorite projects are encouraged to consider Pneuma Winds of Hope (113 Cecilia St. Bay St. Louis, 39520), Habitat for Humanity (online or Habitat for Humanity Bay-Waveland Area, 103 Central Avenue, Bay St. Louis, MS 39520), the Gift of Life Transplant House (online or 705 Second Street SW, Rochester, MN 55902), or Rural Voices Radio (online or 100 Hunter Henry Blvd, Mississippi State, MS 39762).


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