|2 Sep 2022|
Picture AES alumna, Mary Flanagan Williamson, in the late 1970s, a couple of years after high school, perhaps just after an aerobics class or run in the park. She is in her Washington DC home on the hunt for other AIS/AES alumni. She has assembled a team of four, composed of herself, two other alumni, and a former AES English teacher, Mrs Joyce Williams. Call by call, they are building a network of former students who live all over the world. And letter by letter, the group would spread alumni news—news that had been carefully tapped out on an old typewriter, copied, stuffed, and mailed the good old-fashioned way.
Picture Mary Flanagan Williamson today in her Virginia home, still perhaps after a good run; she is on a Zoom call with AES alumni from around the world or on her computer loading content onto the Alumni Facebook page.
When asked why she has dedicated so much of her time to building and nurturing the AES Alumni Association, Mary says it is because she loves the school, that AES is family—like having hundreds of cousins, and that she wants to make sure the community stays strong for all its alumni. Mary’s love for and dedication to AES stems from the sense of belonging and adventure that she felt as a student there and from a deep love for India.
Mary describes AES as having been a very formative experience for her that, coupled with being adopted from Hong Kong at age three, and being raised by a very strong and adventurous mother, has made Mary value family and community above all else. This dedication to community, her love of India, and her natural abilities to keep things organized have powered Mary to be invaluable as a builder of an AES Alumni Association.
As we pictured earlier, Mary has lived the mission “to promote and facilitate the lifelong communication and camaraderie of (AES) alumni, parents of alumni, faculty, and staff” long before there was an association. The formalization of her commitment began in 2005 when Mary joined the AIS/AES Alumni Association Board of Directors as Recording Secretary, and then served as Vice President, before becoming President in January 2011. Mary’s strong leadership brought a sense of energy and fun to the Alumni Board. She hosted several reunions in the Washington DC area and encouraged other similar efforts in various places around the world. Mary holds a particular fondness for an “all-school” reunion in 2015— a reunion attended by four AES administrators and the reunion that sponsored a theme contest from which grew the Alumni Association’s motto: “India Lives in All of Us.” With this new momentum, Board members and her newly created network of class secretaries conducted a very successful ongoing search for alumni, growing membership from hundreds to thousands by the time Mary retired from her Board membership at the end of 2019.
Mary’s efforts didn’t stop then. A self-taught techie, Mary continued to strengthen the alumni community through the website and Facebook, springing both to life with news stories, new-old photos and slideshows, class yearbooks, old publications, reunion photo archives, obituaries, and much more. Another long-term project was the creation of an AIS/AES yearbook library. Mary and a small team searched for school yearbooks and turned them into electronic files for the collection. Aligned with all of the wonderful images and stories of the extended AES community, is the fact that AES knows how to celebrate. And Mary has been no stranger to contributing long hours to the 60th, 65th, and now 70th Anniversary celebrations.
At last, picture again Mary Flanagan Williamson, a Hong Kong-born, Irish-named, Indian-raised, fun-loving, kind, and happy person at home in Virginia cooking her favorite chicken curry or trying to improve upon her beloved tandoori. As she shares her favorite dishes with her family, she should feel great pride in having dedicated such a big part of her life to making sure AES is always a home base—whether a physical or mental space—where everyone from all kinds of backgrounds will always feel like they belong and can thrive.