Mary Thompson takes an adventurous approach to life and embraces new experiences, but she never thought learning two simple dance moves would make her an international celebrity sensation overnight at the age of 80! Last month, a video of Mary and her friend, Eleanor Fredriksen, posted on the Facebook page of Somerby of Peachtree City Retirement Community, went viral – seen by over 25 million viewers and shared over 600,000 times!
The short video, shot by Somerby’s lifestyles director, Jessica Holt, captures Mary and Eleanor dancing to “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae),” a popular hip hop song by Silento´, that features two dance moves – the “whip” and the “nae nae.” Neither Mary nor Eleanor was familiar with the song or the dance moves but got into the groove when Jessica started dancing. “We just did what Jessica did,” said Mary. “I don’t really know much about dancing. I just catch the music and start moving.”
“Catching the music” could be the refrain of Mary’s life. She is a seeker who at a young age asked the big question – “Why are we here?” Born in Staten Island, New York, Mary worked as a young woman on Wall Street and as a flight attendant for Eastern Airlines. During this time, she thought about becoming a nun as she searched for God and life’s meaning. A wise priest told her that if she could not find God in a garden, she would not find Him in a nunnery! In 1957 she attended Billy Graham’s first crusade in New York at Madison Square Garden and gave her life to Christ.
Nursing school brought Mary to Georgia, where she received a nursing degree from Georgia Baptist Hospital in Atlanta in 1961. She then took a job as school nurse at Oklahoma Baptist University, where in 1964 she completed her bachelors degrees in psychology and religion. Later Mary took a regional staff position with InterVarsity Nurses Christian Fellowship, helping to provide Bible studies and ministry opportunities for nursing students on the East Coast.
Back in Atlanta, working in a hospital, Mary often wrote and visited a male family member serving time at the Atlanta Penitentiary for bank embezzlement. While in prison, he was visited by the chaplain and another prisoner, Harold Thompson. Harold, a former compulsive gambler and bank robber, was led to Christ by the chaplain and starting sharing his faith with other inmates.
At the encouragement of her family member in the prison, Mary became Harold’s Christian pen pal. They wrote each other for a year before Mary first visited him in prison. After seeing the dramatic changes in Harold’s life, the prison warden sponsored his pardon request, and Harold received a pardon from President Richard Nixon and was released from prison in 1974. Upon Harold’s release, he joined Campus Crusade for Christ’s prison ministry. A year after his release, Harold and Mary were married. Harold had two sons from a previous marriage, Tom and Jim. Harold served in the prison ministry for over 25 years, and he and Mary received the “Champions for Life Gold Prison Cross” for their powerful ministry. Harold died in 2010, and in June of 2014, Mary moved to Somerby Peachtree City.
“Mary is very instrumental in providing support to new residents,” remarks Somerby’s Jessica Holt. “She has a nurturing spirit. She listens. She inspires me. While aging gracefully, she has no limits! I can tell she has always been passionate about people.” When asked about her passion for people, Mary responds, “I see each person as an individual. God made each of us. If I get to know you, I get to know a little more about God.”
Always looking for new ways to be engaged, Mary is motivated by the ground-breaking book on re-thinking the aging process by Dr. Roger Landry, “Live Long, Die Short: A Guide to Authentic Health and Successful Aging.” She encourages people of all ages to do something each day that energizes you. Jessica agrees and says this is the mantra of Somerby. “‘SPARK’ is our way of thinking here – it stands for Spirituality, Purpose, Activity, Relationships and Knowledge.”
Asked why she thinks the video she shot of Mary and Eleanor went viral, Jessica responds, “People said they were inspired by the obvious friendship of Mary and Eleanor, doing something new and different together.” They were “catching the music!”
To see Mary and Eleanor in action, go to facebook.com/Somerby-of-Peachtree-City-612318838794791.