One thing Mary Wyatt Allen’s friends knew for sure: You didn’t call her Mary; her name was Mary Wyatt. She would always take a moment to correct anyone who got it wrong.
Allen, who’d been on the front lines of St. Petersburg’s corps of volunteers and civic improvement groups for nearly seven decades, died May 19. She was 90.
Her list of accomplishments as a volunteer, board member, fundraiser and event coordinator was extensive.
She received the Leadership St. Petersburg Community Service Award, the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce’s Community Service Woman of the Year Award, National Society of Fundraising Executives – Outstanding Fundraising Volunteer of the Year, Community Services Council – Award for Services to Children, St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce – Contribution to the Betterment of the Community Award, United Way of Pinellas County – Alexis de Tocqueville Society Human Service Award, St. Anthony’s Health Care Foundation – First Roy G. Harrell Leadership award for Community Service, YWCA – Virginia Lazzara Service Award, among others. Allen was named to the City of St. Petersburg’s Senior Hall of Fame.
“Once you’re a worker bee, you’re on her radar forever,” remembered H. Roy Adams, public relations specialist for Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. Allen first recruited him to work on the city’s Centennial Celebration in 1987.
“She collected workers, and there’s a whole group of people out there that would tell you they’re Mary Wyatt’s Army. You take her call and you do what she needs, because you know that whatever she’s working on is worthy. Not forming a committee to form a committee.”
Allen was a native of St. Petersburg. Working to better her community was simply “in her DNA,” according to Adams.
“She had an incredible handle on things,” he said. “If she got involved with a cause, she believed in it. And she got things done.”
Along with Bill and Hazel Hough, Wyatt was among the team that purchased the circa 1925 Christian Science Church at 253 5th Avenue N. in 1998 to transform it into a community performance venue, the Palladium Theater; St. Petersburg College took over Palladium operations in 2007.
Among others, Allen served on the boards of the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County, Health and Human Services, the St. Petersburg Housing Authority, City of St. Petersburg Environmental and Development Commission, Florida Commission on Community Service, Pinellas County License Board, Pinellas County Arts Council, the Area Agency on Aging, the Social Services Allocations Committee and the St. Petersburg Housing Task Force.
She was a Life Member of the All Children’s Guild.
“She wasn’t just a name on a roster,” Adams explained. “She was a face, she was there, she was involved. A lot of times, you didn’t necessarily see her in the press release or in the photo, because she did a lot of things behind the scenes.”
Mary Wyatt’s father, Nathaniel W. Upham, along with her grandfather and uncle, developed both Shore Acres and sections of St. Petersburg Beach.
After graduating from Vanderbilt University, Mary Wyatt – now married to insurance agent Tom Chris Allen, Jr. – returned to her hometown.
“She just had a love for the city,” said son Chris Allen, “and always had a desire to volunteer and better things.”
His brother Niel concurred. “She was very much a product of, and a champion for the city of St. Petersburg, having been born and raised here. And always promoted the city and its growth. And its services to children, especially.
“But the history of the city was important to her, because her family was involved in its development early on. It was something that was close to her heart.”
It was through her involvement with the St. Petersburg Historical Society, Niel Allen said, that his mother made what many consider her most lasting contribution to the city.
She was instrumental in a number of different development campaigns for the St. Petersburg Museum of History, in its transition from early 20th century curiosity into to a contemporary, state-of-the-art facility, including substantial renovations and additions.
“She was involved in the Museum of History for years and years and years,” said Niel. “At times being on the board, and the chair of the board. And when there was staff upheaval, she did serve as executive director temporarily, until they could do a search to find a new one.”
She is survived by her sons, and their spouses, Tamara Brown Allen and Mary Amanda Hand; step grandchildren Jordan Yanow, Jamie Yanow, Cameron Cottrill, Clayton Cottrill and Natalie Cottrill; as well as her brother-in-law William Cook Ballard and his children and grandchildren.
A memorial service will take place Thursday, June 8 at St. Raphael Catholic Church, at a time yet to be determined.