Sundays at Four founder is deserving Citizen of the Year

Published 5:48 pm Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Add Citizen of the Year to the well-deserved accolades Mary Cole has received for her tireless contributions to the Smithfield community.

Mary was actually named the 2019 recipient by the Smithfield Rotary and Ruritan Clubs, but the pandemic forced the clubs to wait until several weeks ago to make the presentation.

Mary is a county native who spent much of her adult life away from Smithfield and, for that matter, Virginia. She returned to her native hometown a couple of decades ago and within a few years was immersed in civic work.

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Topping Mary Cole’s legacy will be the Sundays at Four program that is sponsored by the Isle of Wight Arts League in partnership with Christ Episcopal Church.

A professionally trained musician, accomplished in voice and French horn, Mary felt Smithfield was lacking a classical music program. To fill that need, she launched Sundays at Four, which brought professional classical musicians to Smithfield. At least as important as those performances, though, is the program’s focus on youth. Its “Talented Teens” annual program as well as other concerts provide a venue for uniquely talented young people.

Mary has taken young people under her wing and helped them obtain scholarships and other assistance to enable them to further their dreams of becoming professional musicians.

One of Mary’s nominators was lifelong friend Mary Batten. In her letter to the Rotarians and Ruritans, she wrote that “Mary’s dedication to this program has enriched the culture of our community with monthly musical offerings that rival anything one would hear in New York.”

Sundays at Four was silenced by the pandemic along with most community activities, but it remains an active program and its sponsors are planning to relaunch it this year.

The current director of the Sundays program, Dru Stowe, said Mary’s commitment to bringing outstanding chamber music to the community “is only eclipsed by her love for assisting young musicians. This program would not exist without her.”

Nor has Mary Cole limited her community efforts to the musical series. When historic Christ Church found that its priceless stained glass windows were in danger of collapsing because of deteriorating masonry in the walls, Mary became the most vocal promoter of the church’s historic value and the need for its preservation. She organized tours of the church and other activities to raise awareness as well as dollars, and today, the windows have been fully restored and returned to stabilized walls in one of the community’s oldest churches.

Mary Cole is consistently modest about her civic work and has never sought credit for her countless labors on behalf of Smithfield. That modesty makes her work that much more appealing for those who know her, and it is good to see it recognized by the Ruritans and Rotarians.


Remembering Mozell


Many people have contributed to the fame that Smithfield has come to enjoy because of its signature product, the Smithfield Ham. That list should never omit the name Mozell Brown.

Mrs. Brown, who died recently, was an extraordinary pastry chef who spent 50 years — a half century — at the Smithfield Inn, where her ham biscuits and rolls were legendary.

Food writers beat a path to the Inn’s door to get a taste of Mrs. Brown’s baked goods and to write about them. Therein lies her contribution to the spreading of the legend beyond Smithfield.

The Woman’s Club of Smithfield asked Mrs. Brown to contribute her most famous recipe, the one for buttermilk biscuits, as an entry in the Smithfield Cookbook. There it resides, a notable contributor to a proud tradition.

Mrs. Brown’s skill in the kitchen, however, was more than matched by her personality, and it is that, even more than her baked goods, for which she is rightly remembered by friends. She was one of the kindest people imaginable. I’m sure there were times when she didn’t smile, but I don’t recall one.

Mozell Brown earned a place among the community’s most well-known 20th century leaders, and our lives were enriched by her time among us.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is