Remembering Mary Max, Philanthropist/Mentor/Advocate

Two weeks ago we learned that Mary Max had apparently taken her own life. The media coverage selected one aspect of her life for its reports about her death: that she was the wife of the artist Peter Max. A week before her death the New York Times had covered, on the front page of their Sunday business section, the sad story of Peter‘s dementia and a very complicated business and domestic situation.


Mary’s death provided an opportunity to recycle lurid reports. We never learned about her as a person separate from her role as wife to Peter Max. But vegans, animal activists, and others were quick to fill the void. I’ve tried to gather here some of the statements that appeared.

From Marisa Miller Wolfson of Vegucated came a wonderful and thorough remembrance, including this sentence about how we each make a difference: “Once, when I was feeling down about my own activism, saying it just wasn’t enough to make much of a difference, she said that we each have a tiny piece to place in a big, beautiful mosaic, and everyone’s contribution matters.”

The Humane Society of the United States remembered Mary’s “big, big heart” and her “grassroots advocate’s eye of the field.”

Voters for Animal Rights described her as the “the advocate's advocate. She advised us not just how to better advocate for animals, but also how to treat other humans in the movement with greater empathy.”

Jasmin Singer and Marisa remembered Mary Max for VegNews and they reminded us of how for years, Mary Max “produced an action alert email list, encouraging her many readers to contact legislators on various animal-friendly bills.”

In 2003, Mary hosted a vegan reception in Peter’s art studio for several of us who had spoken the day before at a Farm Sanctuary event. It was such a lovely morning, with vegan French toast, fruit salad, scrambled tofu and other treats. Peter signed a print to each of us. I was sent to my plane with leftovers, and a sense that what we did mattered. Truly, activism is often an unthanked job; we expect that—we aren’t doing it for the thanks—but still, it was so special to feel appreciated. If our schedules allowed, I’d meet Mary for a meal when I was in Manhattan and try to catch up. One time she brought along a friend working on a book proposal about veganism, to get some advice from me. That captures her sense of mentoring—make connections, encourage, and make sure people are well fed. 

We have to ask, why did the major media outlets not spare a little space to acknowledge the dimensions of Mary Max’s own life? In the words of my own theory in The Sexual Politics of Meat, Mary had become an absent referent to her own life.