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Mary Alice (McLaughlin) Kustka
Mary Alice (McLaughlin) Kustka, aged 71, was a hard working, intelligent, thoughtful, and caring person of many talents. She was an avid reader, adept at needle crafts, a great cook and excellent baker, and an exceptional sister, mother and Nana. She had a great wit, she brought an excellent sense of humor to many situations, and she always put her family first. She spent the final days of her life as she enjoyed her best: surrounded by her loving family. Mary passed peacefully on January 7th.
Mary was the daughter of the late Edward J. and Mary G. (Duncan) McLaughlin. Born while her father was deployed in Korea, when Mary first met her father, her initial reaction to the man with the hairy arms and booming voice kissing her mother was to give him a swift kick to the shin. Despite the auspicious start, this demonstrated her style as the eventual matriarch of her family: while generally reserved, Mary would make her position known as needed, although she usually didn’t need to kick anyone to get her point across. It’s what made her so beloved by her family, the least of which, her father who received the boot.
Growing up in Jamaica Plain, Mary was the doting eldest sister to Edward, Teresa, Kathleen, and Elizabeth. A lifelong learner, Mary graduated from Notre Dame Academy in Hingham and Boston University, where she proudly became the first college graduate in her family. She was just as proud of her education as she was that she paid her own way and avoided any debt, as the rest of her family wondered at how she managed both a full-time job and school.
Post graduation, Mary began her career as an elementary school teacher. After a brief hiatus to raise 3 wild boys, Mary would spend nearly 30 years working for the Norwell Public Library. In her later years, Mary maintained her passion for educating and helping others, serving as a tutor for ESL learners.
At the age of 22, Mary married Robert R. Kustka, Jr. (“Bob”), who remained the love of her life even after his passing in 2020. The balance that they brought each other was otherworldly. Bob was ever the “idea man”, but his ideas would never have gotten off the ground without his crack execution team, led by Mary. When Bob received a promotion to move the family to England, Mary was there to make sure the kids were accepted into schools and maintained their friendships back in Norwell. That Mary shuttled her three boys between London and Boston by herself for years without an international incident is a testament to her patience and parenting. When Bob wanted to host a “Kustka Family Bash”, Mary ensured that guests would be able to eat something besides Bob’s famous: “over- and/or under-cooked steak tips”. And when Bob retired from Gillette to start his own consulting practice, Mary took college bookkeeping courses to make sure the bills were paid and the business remained solvent.
Together with Bob, Mary raised three children, Joel, Jason and Daniel. Bob and Mary were an excellent pair as parents: Bob was always quick to ask his kids what was on their mind and helped teach them the value of logic; Mary always seemed to know what her kids were thinking and made them feel safe. Larger than her preternatural ability to understand others was Mary’s ability to accept her family as they were. She showed everyone that family comes first and to see past differences; she leaves behind a family that is stronger because of her.
As her children started families of their own, it became obvious that Mary was a “Nana’s Nana”. She loved to read stories, build puzzles and pitch in as a babysitter for her grandchildren, Eamon, Olive, Saoirse, and Penelope. She cross-stitched by hand a beautiful Christmas stocking for each grandchild, stitching their name across the top. Nana also quickly lost a bit of the discipline that she maintained for so long with her own kids, as her granddaughter Olive had no trouble convincing her that she “needed” a bowl of black raspberry ice cream on Sunday morning visits at 8:30. As Eamon and Saoirse live in San Francisco, Nana always would fly out to visit on their birthdays.
Mary was an excellent chef and baker. If not for being such a private person, she could have had her own cooking show. She spoiled her family with feasts at every holiday and made many in her circle better cooks. If there was a recipe she couldn’t recite to you offhand, she only needed to consult the personal handwritten cookbook she maintained. Most famously, she would bake hundreds of buckeyes and dozens of pumpkin bread as holiday gifts; anyone lucky enough to receive these would look forward to next year’s shipment. When a certain son reported that his wife and kids ate all the buckeyes before he got them one year, Mary shipped the family care package and a secret package just for him the following year.
There were few truer Red Sox fans than Mary, ever since she attended her first game with her father as a gift for her first communion. As a young girl, she walked from her home in Jamaica Plain to Fenway Park to support the team. As an adult with her kids, Mary always had a book open in the evenings, but if the Red Sox were playing, the game would be on TV. Just so no one thought she was too caught up in the book, she’d remark on the players’ performance from time to time. On a night where Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball was fluttering out of the strike zone too much, Mary was apt to say “Terry Francona should go bop him with the Nerf bat”. No one knows how she developed the “Nerf bat” expression, but it became a signature catchphrase as iconic as Tommy Heinsohn’s “Tommy Point” amongst her family.
Mary didn’t just have a book open during Red Sox games, either: her family estimates that she read somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 books in her life. Though that may seem a bold claim, every two weeks she would bring home 10 books from the library (and they were always returned on time, because Mary did not incur late fees). So either she was reading them or she was secretly patenting a fitness routine based on hauling books. Similarly to her cooking advice, Mary was an oracle for book recommendations; you’d get a personal endorsement if you enjoyed her favorite genre of mystery, but the consummate librarian, she was always aware of new literature and could make a recommendation based on your personal taste.
Mary will be dearly missed by all who knew her. She is survived by her three children, Joel and his wife Courtney of San Francisco, Jason and his wife Ashley of Hingham, and Daniel and his wife Katie of Hanover. She is also survived by her four siblings, Ed and his wife Becky of Quincy, Teresa and her husband Pat of Norwalk, Kathleen and her husband Bill of Milton, and Elizabeth and her husband Steve of Hingham. Beyond her immediate family, Mary is survived by many godchildren, nieces and nephews, former colleagues, and dear friends.
Per Mary’s wishes, there will not be any services. In lieu of flowers, donations to honor Mary may be made to the Greater Boston Food Bank (https://www.gbfb.org/).