by Judy Sharpe
While 90th birthday parties are happening more and more these days, celebrating Marie Parmly’s special occasion is highly anticipated for friends and family as yet another opportunity to gather and spend time with this beautiful lady. Marie, a long-time member of Pax Christi Florida, is known for her parties and gatherings which can occur for any variety of reasons or just to watch the magnificent moon rise on the ocean. These events usually evolve into dialogues on any topic, including politics, religion, human rights and the environment. Marie’s perspective is insightful, peppering her views with stories of her endless supply of extraordinary life experiences.
Most, including Marie, would not have believed that this 90th year was a possibility for her. Marie was working as a Maryknoll volunteer in mission in Mexico City during the earthquake of 1985 and surviving that, she was shot in the chest during a holdup on a bus ride in Mexico. These experiences were after she survived a fatal car crash that took the lives of her husband and her two friends that were also passengers. Her extensive injuries from the accident led doctors to predict that she would not have use of her legs again. She credits her recovery to a “great healing ability”. This healing ability was called upon yet again when her neck was broken in a fall. These are the more traumatic incidents that temper mentioning other circumstances that would have ended it all for most of us.
Life began for Marie West on March 18th of 1924 when she was born into a large and close knit family. Military life has been a predominant focus of this clan with at least 20 West Point graduates counted among them. Born in Hawaii with time spent in Cuba and Panama and being raised in the area of West Point, New York and Washington, D.C., and later, as a married woman, making her home in Japan, Thailand, the Panama Canal Zone, New York, Georgia, Kentucky, Alaska, North Carolina, Kansas, Florida, Virginia and Maryland, she is a true citizen of the world. Marie West and Lee Parmly married in 1946 and raised five children while living at 26 diverse locations. After Lee’s death, Marie returned to college and then spent several years as a Maryknoll Lay Missioner assigned to Mexico City. Being fluent in Spanish and English from her early childhood undoubtedly has been a huge asset in developing lasting friendships with so many people throughout the world.
Looking back , she is very grateful for her unique and blessed life that nurtured a deep relationship with God and a strong ethic for discipline and responsibility. These attributes were instilled in her by her parents. Charles West, Marie’s dad, because of his discipline and sense of duty, was able to take advantage of the opportunity to be accepted to West Point Academy as a young man, graduate, and obtain his law degree to become Professor of Law at West Point, though his early years would be categorized as “modest”. Marie’s mother, Hortensia Marie Guiteras, of Basque descent, was born and raised in Cuba. As a girl she was sent to convent schools that developed and nurtured her deep faith as a devout Catholic and her life-long habit of service to others.
I met Marie in the early 1990’s when we were both members of Pax Christi St. Augustine and participating in “Neighborhood Conversations on Racism.” Marie’s input was vital, to say nothing of her brownies. Her commitment to our projects was exemplified by her showing up in the “Halo” while her broken neck was healing. Since then, she can be seen working to help improve conditions for our migrant farmworkers at the local migrant camps, carrying banners for demonstrations on issues promoting peace (including protesting the stockpiling of nuclear arms), and frequent death penalty vigils while Florida steps up its pace of executions. Marie supplies and writes birthday cards for all the Florida death row inmates so members of the Diocesan Social Justice Committee can sign, and she has never stopped her pace for letting those in power know her views on human rights issues.
I have often heard Marie mention how important having good friends has been in her life. What I am not sure about is just how much Marie is aware of the importance and difference she has made in the lives of so many in the world who are grateful and honored to call her “friend”, and who love her.
- In celebration of Marie’s 90th birthday, her Pax Christi Florida friends have set up a “Tribute to Marie Parmly” to which donations can be given to Pax Christi USA in honor of Marie. Click here and then scroll down to donate in recognition of Marie.