October 23, 1920 - April 23, 2000
All of us at the Carl Albert Center were saddened by the news that Mary Albert died on April 23, just ten weeks after her husband, former U.S. House Speaker Carl Albert, passed away. Although she had been chronically ill, her death was sudden. The weeks following Speaker Albert's death on February 4 were really hard on her. Their son, David Albert, said she had spent a lot of time recently "looking at pictures of my dad."
Mary Harmon was born in Columbia, South Carolina to Mary Isabel Strange and David Harmon in 1920. Both parents died while she was yet a child, and she was raised by Nancy and Whitman Greene. After graduating from high school, she went to Washington, D.C. where she served as a legal secretary in the Pentagon and was located in the temporary buildings on the Mall. It was there that she met Carl Albert while he was serving in the judge advocate general's office, U.S. Army Air Corps.
In his autobiography, Carl Albert recalled that first meeting: ". . . I was working away when I heard the assured rhythm of heels clicking briskly across our marble floor. I looked up into sparkling blue eyes. I mumbled some pleasantry, and Mary Harmon introduced herself in a gentle Carolina accent that softly sheathed an inordinate poise and confidence. She could have been anything from three feet to seven; it made no difference. I knew then and there that Mary Harmon was just the right size for me" (Little Giant, 131).
They were married in 1942. While Carl served in the Far East, Mary attended the University of South Carolina. At the conclusion of the war, the Alberts moved to McAlester, the place that Carl called home in Oklahoma's Third Congressional District, and he campaigned successfully in 1946 for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Describing that first campaign, Carl wrote: "Mary cashed in our $9,000 worth of War Bonds and thereby became my major contributor" (Little Giant, 146).
Mary also had a remarkable gift for remembering names and faces as she campaigned beside her husband. Throughout their years together, she continued to support his career in a myriad different ways and unabashedly described herself as a "yellow dog democrat."
Carl and Mary Albert's children, Mary Frances and David, recall living the difficult two-home life of a Congressional family - going back and forth between a residence in McAlester and an apartment in Washington, D.C. As the children grew and Carl ascended the ladder of leadership in Congress, the family settled in Washington so that there could be more continuity in their lives.
Mrs. Albert was a member of the Congressional Club and the Eastern Star, but she also served as cookie chairman for the Girl Scouts and was a booster of the wrestling team.
Carl and Mary Albert retired to McAlester in 1977. In the years that followed, she accompanied him to many special events throughout Oklahoma, including those at the Carl Albert Center. She lent further support to the Center by continuing to attend special events when he was no longer able. Her presence always guaranteed lively conversation, interesting recollections, and smiles on the faces of her dinner companions.
In her lifetime Mary Harmon Albert met shahs and queens and presidents, but she never met a stranger. Carl Albert was right - she was inordinately poised and confident - but she was also delightfully warm and friendly. She will be missed, not just by her children and grandchildren, but by all of us who looked into her sparkling blue eyes.