Grandmother to All
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Dr. Mary Dudley smiles every time she talks about children, families and poetry. They remind her about life cycles, which she loves to see in the generations of trees and plants.
Since Dudley moved to New Mexico, she has become an educator, a home visitor, director for the Family Development Program and co-founder of Pediatric Care.
She has taught many New Mexican families how to advocate for themselves and for their children. Because of this commitment, she is now known as the grandmother of the early childhood development movement in New Mexico.
Through her research, she has learned that teaching vocabulary and dual languages to a child early on positively impacts their learning in the future. “We should be providing quality care and education in the child’s first language to everybody whose parents want it,” said Dudley.
“The Way it Was”
Dudley was born in Baltimore, Maryland and raised in Dundalk, a primarily immigrant town. This is where she connected to her Irish roots. “I grew up with a sense of multiculturalism,” said Dudley.
From an early age, she was fascinated by human development. As a teenager, she realized her passion for childcare when she babysat for her neighbor.
“They were little kids and we played and I got paid for that! That seemed pretty amazing,” said Dudley.
“My children are my legacy.”
Dudley developed a love of poetry which was inspired by her father. She went on to write poetry and has been published.It was through her English studies at Brown College that she deepened her love for poetry.
Dudley described her years at Brown as an exciting time for women, since women were only recently allowed to pursue higher education.
“It had been a men’s school for its whole history and I, as a woman, did not feel welcome there,” said Dudley.
After receiving her undergraduate degree, she furthered her education by obtaining a masters degree in English from Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York.
When Dudley’s professional career slowed down, she decided to take a Greyhound Bus to visit her brother and his in-laws in New Mexico. From the Washington D.C. bus station, she rode across the country on “the dog” and loved the whole experience.
Although it was magical driving to Albuquerque and seeing the landscape change and the gorgeous cloud formations, the country had just endured mass devastation. Presidental candidate Robert Kennedy had been shot that week.
Soon after this tragedy, she and her brother-in-law organized a gun control petition and walked door to door to get signatures.
“That was a pretty significant event that moved me and made me think about coming here and doing something different from just working in the academic world as I always had,” Dudley said.
Then, she applied to the Anthropology Department at the University of New Mexico and within a week, Dudley had a job as Tony Hillerman’s secretary, and an assistantship. She went back to New York and said to herself, “I’m just gonna go out there and see what I can learn and do that’s different from anything else I’ve ever done.”
Dudley explained she “came back to New Mexico with my earthly possessions and a suitcase and found an apartment and began to work with Mr. Hillerman, which was just wonderful.”
As time went on, she decided not to stay in the anthropology program and instead accepted a research lab position in the San Joaquin Valley School in California to teach kindergarten to bilingual students. She soon found out she had replaced parent-teachers from that community. This made her feel uneasy and, after deep consideration, she expressed her opposition to the lab’s new model.
During this decade of her life, Dudley experienced many major milestones. Several months after moving to New Mexico, Dudley met her husband, Jim Dudley, at a poetry event. It was love at first sight. They soon began dating and married in 1973. In 1975, they became first time parents to their oldest daughter Claire Dudley. Eighteen months later, they welcomed their youngest daughter Rosie Dudley.
“The birth of our kids – of course each of those was a profound moment. There’s just absolutely nothing like that,” said Dudley. “My children are my legacy.”
“The Way it Went”
As her children continued to grow, Dudley finished her second graduate degree in Psychological Foundations of Education and taught kindergarten classes.
She then went to work for the Maternal & Infant Care Project and became director of the UNM Family Development Program. There she enjoyed training families from all across New Mexico with her colleague, Diana Montoya.
For several years, Dudley and Montoya built a strong bond as they traveled the state training families together.
“I know that she cares very deeply about what happens in her community and has worked effortlessly and tirelessly, to see that her values in how we work with communities, move forward,” Montoya said.
Montoya explained that when she found out her mother was sick with cancer Dudley encouraged her to take care of her family– even if that meant she had to leave the state. Dudley always encouraged her staff to take care of their families, otherwise, what was the point of helping others?
“The Way It Is”
Mary Dudley and her family continued their life in the South Valley. As her children sprouted like flowers, they continued to attend Quaker meetings where they connected with other growing families.
This is where Mary met her dear friend Susan Brown, a pediatrician from Haiti.
As their families became close, the two women started their own unique practice together that was based around genuine care for others.
They spent six wonderful years together until Susan and her family decided to move back to Haiti. Dudley was sad to watch her friends go and to see the practice close. However, she continued their work of providing quality early care training to parents.
Dudley and her family built a legacy on this land. “This soil has been nurtured for many years,” said Dudley.
The South Valley is where her daughters, Rosie and Claire, grew up. Both share their mother’s passion for investing in children. Dudley’s life thread continues, as a grandmother to her first own grandson.
Her eyes light up with love every time she talks about Luc. She still New Mexico’s grandmother of early childhood education and a grandma to Luc. Her legacy lives on.
“This soil has been nurtured for many years,”