All of us at the Law Center were shocked and saddened to learn yesterday that Sister Mary Ann Luby had died suddenly, less than two weeks after receiving a cancer diagnosis.
The suddenness was not the only reason for our shock. Sister Mary Ann, outreach worker at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, was such an energetic, passionate and persistent advocate that it is almost impossible to imagine her gone. Here in our home community of Washington, D.C., her advocacy has been a major force for change over the past 27 years. Its influence has been felt not only locally, but nationally as well.
I first met Sister Mary soon after my arrival in Washington in late 1985. She was then running Rachel Women’s Center, and she was one of a very small group of social service providers to whom I could turn to connect national advocacy to the real world facts and experiences of homelessness. I got to know her better when she was at the Legal Clinic, and our work began to intersect more closely.
As a key organizer at the Legal Clinic, Mary Ann regularly mobilized all manner of advocacy aimed at increasing resources and rights for homeless people in the city. I will always remember receiving her emails and calls, urging me to go to a rally or turn out people for a march, to write to the city council, to make the case for the city’s homeless folks to the federal government. She was always prodding, sometimes scolding me to do more—and she was effective. I could rarely say no to her.
For her part, she always came through whenever we asked for her help. A few years ago, we were organizing our annual right to housing Forum in Washington, and we wanted to include a rally in support of housing rights in front of the Capitol as part of it. Our human rights attorney, Eric Tars, describes the instrumental role that Mary Ann played in helping him organize the rally:
“Within a couple of days we went from an idea in my head to several fantastic local speakers, commitments from dozens of local advocates to turn people out, and a flashy background prop. The resulting rally had over 100 people shouting for housing rights on the Senate green. I know she was doing tireless work behind the scenes, but Mary Ann made it seem like she could practically snap her fingers and have 100 people show up to rally for whatever homelessness-related cause needed rallying. And in many ways, she probably could, because that was how deep respect for her ran in the community. “
Mary Ann was 70 when she died, but she always seemed like she could go on forever—or at least a few more decades. The longevity of her vigorous advocacy was an inspiration. For me personally, having been at this for 25 years myself, her example was affirmation that it is truly possible to dedicate oneself to fighting for justice over the very long haul.
Her advocacy, service, and care affected thousands of people who benefited directly from her efforts. Her example affected many more. In these ways and more, her spirit lives on. We mourn her and the big loss to our advocacy and our community, and to our colleagues and partners at the Legal Clinic. But let us always remember Mary Ann’s spirit, and let it guide us, to the day when her vision of housing and justice for all will be realized.
-Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director