Dudley called New Mexico's 'grandmother of childhood development' - Albuquerque Journal

Dudley called New Mexico’s ‘grandmother of childhood development’

Mary Dudley, regarded as New Mexico’s grandmother of early childhood development, died Jan. 27. She was 79. (Courtesy Kathy Chilton)

She has been called New Mexico’s grandmother of early childhood development.

Long before there was a focus on very young children, Mary Neary Dudley was working with legislators, educators and nonprofits in support of parenting and families.

She was also an author of three books on parenting, a published poet and an accomplished photographer.

Dudley died unexpectedly at a local hospital on Jan. 27. She was 79.

In the 1980s, Dudley and a local doctor co-founded Pediatric Care, which encouraged thinking about children in the context of supportive communities for families. In the 1990s, she was an adviser to former first lady Alice King in the creation of the state Children, Youth and Families Department and the Office of Child Development. From 1993 to 2003, she was director of the Family Development Program at the University of New Mexico, where she also led parenting classes and made home visits to families.

“The best way to characterize Mary is someone who was always on the ground, advocating for doing the absolute best for every child and every family in New Mexico,” said Lois Vermilya, the current Family Development Program director.

The program under Dudley, and continuing today, looks at research in the fields of neuroscience, developmental psychology, education and medicine, Vermilya said. “I learned from Mary, and built on her work and how she shaped our center.”

As a friend of Dudley’s for about 48 years, Kathy Chilton said her husband, pediatrician Lance Chilton, told her that “‘Mary also helped pediatricians focus on the whole child rather than merely symptoms and cures.”

Mary Dudley, regarded as New Mexico’s grandmother of early childhood development, died Jan. 27. She was 79. (Courtesy Rosie Dudley)

Dudley, who regarded education as a social justice issue, advocated for programs that helped children and families to become more literate through reading and education, Chilton said.

“Words were always important to her. Words with children, words from parents to children and words in the form of poetry,” Chilton said.

“Mary loved beauty and poetry, music and photography and her family,” said Jim Dudley, Mary’s husband of 50 years. And she adored children and was “fascinated watching them develop, listening to their language and how they express themselves,” he said. She took great interest in “how children develop moral reasoning and how they observe the world.”

Mary Dudley was born in Baltimore. She received a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Maryland at College Park and a master’s degree, also in English, from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

In 1968, she boarded a Greyhound bus to Albuquerque and took a job in the UNM communication and journalism department, working for Tony Hillerman, who later became a well-known author of detective and mystery novels. She received a second master’s degree in psychological foundations of education, and then a doctorate in the foundations of child development at UNM.

“I had just come to New Mexico from Connecticut and was auditing classes at UNM when I almost literally ran into her in the hallway in Mitchell Hall,” said Jim Dudley. “Then, I went into an anthropology class … and saw her face illuminated by the glow from the projector. That same night, I went to a poetry reading and saw her again. Three times in one day.”

Maybe fate, maybe something more, said Jim. The couple married in 1973. Later that year, their first daughter, Claire, was born. Her sister, Rosie, arrived in 1975. The family has been part of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

A passionate advocate of women’s rights and social justice, Mary Dudley was recognized as a Woman on the Move by the YWCA, and received the Spirit of Hope Award from New Mexico Voices for Children.

In addition to her husband and children, Claire Dudley Chavez (Michael) and Rosie Dudley (Michaël), Mary Dudley is survived by grandsons Luc and Téo Dudley Faucheur, all of Albuquerque; sister Margaret Linkous of Falls Church, Virginia; and nephews, nieces and other relatives.

A celebration of Mary’s life will be held Feb. 11, at 2 p.m., at UNM Alumni Memorial Chapel. In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions be made to New Mexico Voices for Children or Generation Justice.

More from reporter Rick Nathanson

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