Mary Evelyn Lee (Nichols) was born on Oct. 24, 1933, in Nevada, Mo., to Katherine (a school teacher) and Flavin (a farmer) Nichols. She was a proud and beloved older sister of Forest, an engineer.
In what she described as a classic case of city boy meets country girl, Mary spotted newcomer Don Lee in the hallway of Nevada High School (rural Missouri) in 1951 and declared to her best friend, “That’s him.” And so began their relationship-a once-in-a-lifetime love story woven through seven decades.
Mary and Don were married on June 27, 1959, and on Aug. 27, 1960, Don bought Kansas City’s iconic Savoy Grill and Hotel. For the next 14 years, they worked side by side, day and night to build their legacy. In the mid 1970s, Mary “retired” from the food and hospitality side of the Savoy business to begin a family. The couple adopted three children: Valerie in 1974 and two sons, Tommy and David, in 1978.
Mary often shared that it was the joy of her life to raise her children and care for her family. Whether it was preparing beautiful meals, driving hours for sporting events and school activities, helping with homework or waiting up to prepare a late “second dinner” when Don returned from work each night, Mary was truly the heartbeat of their home.
Her endless love for her family was complimented by her many artistic passions. She was a true Renaissance woman, uniquely blessed with talents in music, art and writing. She could often be found playing grand piano in the living room or bustling around the kitchen to one of her many jazz CDs-a robust collection of more than 400 musicians, poets and songwriters. One of her favorite memories was attending the Topeka Jazz Festival with her good friend, Ann Hoy, and coming home completely smitten after meeting her favorite artists.
Mary attended the Kansas City Art Institute during the 1950s, a time when many young women hadn’t even considered higher education. The experience expanded her creative mind and nurtured a variety of friendships in her young adult life. Her artistic vision and illustration talents later came to life through a series of whimsical hand-drawn greeting cards and so much more. The many recipients of her handwritten notes and letters over the years will most certainly remember fondly the beauty in her handwriting and the sincerity of her sentiments.
During her tenure at the Savoy, she wrote, designed and produced a newsletter mailed to the venue’s customers each quarter. Her efforts to highlight Kansas City history, Savoy memories, culinary lore and seasonal menu fare netted The Savoy News a Gold Mirror Award, the National Restaurant Association’s highest distinction for excellence in editorial content, photography/illustration, typography and layout.
Mary is preceded in death by her father, Flavin; mother, Katherine; brother, Forest; and the greatest love of her life, Don Lee, her husband of 64 years. She is survived by daughter Valerie, sons Tommy and David, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Everyone who knew Mary loved and respected her. She will be missed and remembered for her quick wit, the way her eyes crinkled when she laughed, her warm smile and the smart, capable ways she nurtured and influenced others. Her kindness and ability to always “do the right thing” leaves an indelible mark on all who had the honor of calling her family or friend.
Mary Lee was truly one of a kind!
A Visitation will be held on Friday, November 3rd, from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm at Muehlebach Funeral Care, 6800 Troost Ave., Kansas City, MO 64131. A Celebration of Life will be held on Saturday, November 4th from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm at The Martin Event Space, 13440 Holmes Rd., Kansas City, MO 64145. A private Graveside will be held for Mary and her family.