NEW YORK — Mary Grace Ritchie Simcoe, 94, passed away unexpectedly November 25, 2012, at her home in New York City.
Mary was born an eighth generation Scotch-Irish American in Roan Mountain, Tenn., on September 5, 1918, the daughter of James Ruble and Laura Esther (Crowe) Ritchie. Her ancestors include the Overmountain Men, who helped America achieve independence in the Revolutionary war. Her grandfather, James Polk Ritchie, fought for the Union in the Civil War, after which he returned to farming. Her father left farming to pursue his education and became Elizabethton High School Principal and Superintendent. Her mother was also a teacher.
Mary graduated from Elizabethton High School in 1936, and from East Tennessee State University in 1940 with a BS in Home Economics. She taught school for three years at the grade and high school levels. During World War II she moved to Washington D.C. to work as a typist for the Federal government.
At 25, Mary discovered her love of modern dance and took classes with Martha Graham in Washington. She received encouragement and support from Martha Hill, Juilliard’s first Director of Dance, who helped her get a scholarship to the summer dance festival at Connecticut College in 1948. In 1950, she enrolled at the Juilliard School of Dance, where her classmates included Paul Taylor. After Juilliard, Mary graduated from Columbia University Teachers College in 1955 with a Master of Arts in Physical Education and Dance.
While ushering at Carnegie Hall, Mary met Stanley Earl Simcoe of New York City, whom she married August 31, 1956. They had two sons, James Ritchie Simcoe and William Earl Simcoe of New York, who survive. Stanley passed away in 1963.
Until 2010, Mary enjoyed work for over 30 years as an usher at Broadway theaters, especially the Ambassador Theater, and at City Center, where she often saw dance concerts by her former teacher and classmate.
Mary loved to dance, exercise and swim, and up until her death was a popular member of Columbia University Gym. She loved people and was openly friendly to everyone. She encouraged and inspired many with her joy of movement and of life.
She was predeceased by her brother, Earl Milburn Ritchie, of Asheville, N.C., in 1985.
In addition to her sons, she is survived by granddaughters, Elizabeth and Julia Simcoe, sister-in-law, Naomi Ritchie, nieces Janis Rowe, Jeanne Murphy, Kay Carney, and many others.
A Memorial Gathering was held January 5, 2013, at Riverside Church in New York City. In accordance with Mary’s wishes, she has donated her body to Columbia University Medical School. Donations in remembrance may be made to New York Public Radio at WNYC.org.