Astoria Park

The Daily Plant : Monday, June 28, 2004


Reporters knew they would get a shot of Mayor Bloomberg, but they weren’t warned about the woman that would soon steal the spotlight.

On Friday, June 25, in her very first press conference with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Chief of Correspondence Mary Purcell told reporters gathered for the citywide pool opening at Astoria Pool in Queens about the 60 years she has spent with Parks & Recreation. Recalling her first days under Commissioner Robert Moses, Mayor Bloomberg presented Mary with a crystal apple, courtesy of Tiffany’s, for her years of service.

Mary’s 15 minutes of fame continued that day as the third floor of the Arsenal was transformed into a celebration in her honor. The lady known for her stash of sweets and zeal for the theater was honored with a timeline of magazine covers, balloons and two cakes with the numerals 6 and 0. Adoring Parkies filled the gallery and listened as she regaled the crowd with stories. Commissioner Benepe joked with Mary, trying to guess her pension benefits, and marveled at the fact that she is the longest-serving City employee. "I couldn’t have lasted this long without people like you working with me," Mary said. "I love to come to work everyday."

Commissioner Benepe and Assistant Commissioner Jack Linn presented Mary with an engraved plaque in the shape of a Parks & Recreation leaf, as well as two vintage photographs of City parks dating back to the 1940s. Candles were then given to those in attendance and blown out all at once. The candles served as a symbol of Mary’s burning devotion to Parks & Recreation.

"Many people don’t live 60 years, let alone stay at the same job 60 years," said Benepe. "We are all so happy to be here to share this with such a wonderful person."

The Parks & Recreation Mary Purcell Era began in 1944, the same year America watched Franklin D. Roosevelt take office and the U.S. invade Normandy. Mary began her career on June 26, working as a Summer Playground Assistant for St. Gabriel’s Park. The only active Parkie to work under both Robert Moses and Henry J. Stern, Mary climbed her way up the ranks of Recreation, Administration and Operations, serving in a number of positions.

Holding the honor of being the first woman to serve as a Parks & Recreation Manager (PRM), Mary’s enthusiasm for the agency didn’t get in the way of her love for the theater. In 1979 and 1987, respectively, she earned her B.A. and M.A. in theater from Hunter College. Mary continued to follow her passion, pursuing her Ph.D. in theater at Yale.

Since August 1981, Mary has served as Chief of Correspondence, where she ensures that thousands of letters are answered in an efficient, timely fashion. She has also helped appoint more than 10,000 friends of Parks.

Mary’s role at Parks & Recreation, however, extends far past the duties listed on paper. "She is a major help," said Bobby Schiavone, who was hired by Mary 15 years ago and now serves as Supervisor of Parks Maintenance and Operations for the Arsenal and Zoo Garage. "She is always asking what more she can do."

Mary has and will continue to bask in the spotlight as she continues her reign at Parks & Recreation. For all of her efforts, Parkies extend their thanks and admiration to the woman who is truly a living legend.

Written by Melissa Kuhn


"People think that if a man has undergone any hardship, he should have a reward; but for my part, if I have done the hardest possible day’s work, and then come to sit down in a corner and eat my supper comfortably—why, then I don’t think I deserve any reward for my hard day’s work—for am I not now at peace? Is not my supper good?"

Herman Melville

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