In memory of Mary Virginia Winstead

someone we've lost to ALS


Throughout her life, Mary served as the very model of strength, intellect, creativity, beauty, humor, and ever-present love and devotion for those she knew and loved.

Our beloved Mimi, wife, mother, sister, and friend, reached the end of her 3 year ALS journey on September 1st, 2020. Throughout her life, Mary served as the very model of strength, intellect, creativity, beauty, humor, and ever-present love and devotion for those she knew and loved. For all that the disease took away, it is the unimaginable strength of her legacy, carried on forever in the words that she wrote and in the people whose lives she touched, that allowed Mary to defeat ALS. Mary taught us how to survive together in life, and in her passing, she leaves us all with one final reminder, so very Mary-esque and familiar to all of those who love her and miss her so profoundly: that even in death, Mary is utterly undefeatable (as she was at Scrabble).

Mary was born in South Minneapolis on May 15, 1953. Mary graduated from Southwest High School, upon which she made her first of many trips to France, which shaped her life and worldview for the remainder of her days. Mary found her calling as a writer during her undergraduate studies at St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minnesota. In a creative writing class known to be difficult amongst the student body, Mary received an A+ on her first major paper. Taking her writing teacher’s advice, Mary pursued her craft, sowing the seeds of what was to become a celebrated writing career. She completed a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota, and received many awards for her published works. In 2002, Mary’s memoir was published, Back to Mississippi: A Personal Journey Through the Events that Changed America in 1964, for which she won the Minnesota Book Award, in May 2003.

In 1989, Mary began her career at Fairview Ridges Hospital, working as editor and public relations professional. From 2002-2006, Mary taught creative writing as an Assistant Professor in the English Department at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN. Following her time at St. Olaf, Mary joined the University of Minnesota Foundation, serving as the Senior Writer until her retirement in July, 2020. Mary was known for her leadership, fashion, good humor, and the lasting relationships she fostered with her colleagues during her time at the Foundation.

In addition to writing, Mary was an accomplished artist with a portfolio of watercolors, including her annual hand-painted Christmas cards. Mary’s hand-painted birds were a cherished reminder of Mary’s talent and love for so many people during the holiday season each year. And Mary lived for Christmastime, with a tree that could never fit her vast collection of ornaments. Along with her Christmas dishes, Swedish tomtons, Dickens village (The Old Curiosity Shop was her favorite), and many other family Christmas heirlooms, Mary’s home became the embodiment of the spirit of loving joy that she shared with her loved ones during the holiday season each year.

Mary was a devoted and loving mother, going to great lengths to ensure the happiness of her three children, Sam, Joe, and Sarah. A single mother, Mary did all she could to provide a loving household for her children, ensuring that they could pursue their interests (dance, music, skiing, soccer) while balancing her career. Reaping what she sowed as a mother, her three children were dedicated to caring and being with her during the final months of her life. Mary embraced the role of ‘Mimi’, the doting grandmother of her beloved grandchildren, Breck, Savannah, Mary, Layne, and Charlie.

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