Community volunteer Mary Liberatore, 90, was ‘a force for good’
By Chris Smith | Jun 30, 2016

Mary Liberatore was everywhere.

She was a charming usher at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, a helper to at-risk teens served by the Worth Our Weight culinary apprentice program, a trusty senior-corps aide at the Santa Rosa Police Department, an engaging reader working to improve children’s literacy, a helpful clerk at the tidy thrift store the Welfare League operates in Railroad Square.

If there were grandma-aged ladies enjoying lunch and glass of wine at a restaurant in or near Santa Rosa and carrying on like schoolgirls, there’s a fair chance Liberatore was among them.

“I just have this need to be productive,” the transplanted New Yorker said three years ago.

“Life has been good to me and I need to give back to feel satisfied. I plan to keep going ’til the day I’m called.”

On June 17, Liberatore was called. All four of her sons were with her when she died at her Santa Rosa home. She was 90.

“She was force to be reckoned with,” said son Matthew Laws of Santa Rosa. “As cliché as it is, it was always a force for good.”

Born Feb. 15, 1926, in Geneva, N.Y., Liberatore discovered the joy of serving others as a teenager during World War II. She became a nurse’s aide and also volunteered making snacks for the USO. Shortly after the war she married Frederick Laws, who became a sociology professor at the University of Maryland and then at Loyola University in Southern California. Mary Laws went to work in administration at the UCLA Medical Center until she jumped at a chance to move to the university’s performing arts department.

She became an assistant director responsible for helping bring all manner of stage acts to UCLA.

“There’s where she really cemented her love of performing arts,” said son Matthew.

His parents divorced in the late 1970s. In 1980, his mother left Southern California and returned to New York State with her second husband, Douglas Brownson. They settled in Hyde Park. Mary Brownson did some substitute teaching but mostly she volunteered. Among her unpaid gigs: greeting visitors to the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site.

Douglas Brownson died in 1998. His widow returned to California to be nearer her sons and many of her grandchildren.

Reclaiming her maiden name, Mary Liberatore adopted Santa Rosa as her new home and set out in search of opportunities to be of service. Given her love of performing arts, to become a volunteer usher at the Burbank Center was a natural.

All through her seventies and eighties, Liberatore volunteered more than 40 hours a week for the LBC, Kiwanis International and several other nonprofits.

Her remarkable work, much of it benefiting children, brought her honors that included a 2011 “Big Heart” award from the Kenwood Education Foundation.

She said just last year, “The ability to volunteer throughout my life has attributed to my longevity, dedication to the community, and a sense of well-being of mind, body and soul.”

In addition to her son in Santa Rosa, she is survived by sons Mark Laws of San Diego, Bruce Laws of Houston and John Laws of Anaheim Hills; 13 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A celebration of life will be at 3 p.m. Aug. 8, at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts.

Liberatore’s family suggests donations in her memory to LBC Arts and Education Fund, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa 95403; Oakmont Kiwanis Club Foundation C/O Wendell Freeman, 408 Woodley Way, Santa Rosa 95409; Santa Rosa Welfare League, 126 Fourth St., Santa Rosa 95401; or Memorial Hospice, 439 College Ave, Santa Rosa 95401.

Mary Liberatore at the Welfare League Thrift Shop in Santa Rosa.