A wonderful partnership began in the 1970’s by Mary F. Toomey, an outstanding Weymouth schoolteacher of over forty years and Dr. Mary Sears, which started the preservation of the historic Weymouth Back River and Estuary.
An ardent environmentalist Mary Toomey worked for decades to clean up pollution, restore the fisheries and preserve hundreds of acres of conservation land under the direction of Dr. Mary Sears. Dr. Sears was a commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve and leading oceanographer of the Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Mary Toomey was honored for her commitment to environmental activism. In 2004, she received the Gulf of Maine Times' Visionary Award. In 1966, she founded the Great Esker Park Natural Science Center, where her students offered the town’s youth a free summer nature program to learn about our wilderness heritage. Mary was also a Weymouth Town Meeting Member and ran a successful campaign with the Weymouth Conservation Commission to save the historic glacier land Great Esker Park in North Weymouth, an archeological and wildlife preserve. The Town of Weymouth purchased the land that is now Great Esker Park from the federal government in 1966.
Five years later Mary Toomey and Dr. Mary Sears met at this park and Sears asked her to help protect the Back River. They then organized many events and set up the cleanup of the contamination of Webb State Park. "There are people that want to use the planet and there are people that want to save the planet," Mary Toomey always said.
Toomey formed the Back River Committee of Weymouth and Hingham in 1979. She later incorporated the Back River Watershed Association in 2000. Her efforts resulted in nine open space parks surrounding the estuary in the towns of Weymouth and Hingham opened to the public; Webb State Park, Bouve Conservation Land, Stodder’s Neck Park, Back River Wildlife Sanctuary, Abigail Adams State Park, Bare Cove Park, More-Brewer Reservation, Great Esker Park, Herring Run Park. The Back River Estuary was restored which Dr. Sears stated “ the estuaries controlled the nursery for the offshore fisheries, Back River being one of the most important ecological food resources in the region”.
Mary was instrumental in creating the Weymouth Back River Area of Critical Environmental Concern in 1982. Her work help identify a hazardous waste site on Weymouth Neck that has been cleaned up and restored by Conoco- Philips Inc; in 2007. There are Four Designations for the Back River Estuary; ACEC, One of Massachusetts Special Places, Local Scenic River, Wildlife Refuge.
Mary Toomey received numerous awards in recognition of her vision, work and dedication to preserve the Back River Watershed and her vision carries on today. They include:
2004 - Gulf of Maine Visionary Award, Gulf of Maine Council
2004 - Woman of the Year, Kiwanis Citizens Award
2003 - Abigail Adams Award, Mass. Women’s political Caucus Education Fund
1998 - Community Service Award, Holy Nativity Episcopal Church
1997 - Certificate of Appreciation , Weymouth 375th Anniversary Committee
1991 - Environmental Merit Award, U.S. EPA
And numerous citations & proclamations in recognition of her work:
Commonwealth of Massachusetts, House of Representatives
Commonwealth of Massachusetts, State Senate
Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Governor Mitt Romney
Mary Toomey Day, Town of Weymouth (1998)
Conservation Teacher of the Year, Boston University Academy of Distinguished
Audubon Society Teacher of the Year
Weymouth Rotary Club Service Award
A marine biologist, the late Mary Sears received her doctoral degree in zoology from Radcliffe College in 1933 and went on to pursue a life long career in oceanography. She was one of the first staff members at WHOI and a guiding force in its development. She is widely credited with turning a new, obscure field into a prestigious international science, and was the founding and long-time editor of the journal Deep-Sea Research. She also helped to establish the journal Progress in Oceanography, and served as editor of a number of books considered milestones on documenting the history of marine science.
As a principal organizer of the first International Oceanographic Congress at the United Nations, she forged many important links with marine scientists around the world. During World War II she organized and led the new Oceanographic Unit of the Navy Hydrographic Office, which provided the foundation for the current Naval Oceanographic Office.
As a graduate student she worked at Harvard University with Dr. Henry Bigelow, a founder and the first Director of WHOI. She began working summers at WHOI as a planktonologist in 1932, and was appointed as a planktonologist on a year-round basis in 1940. She also served as a research assistant at Harvard from 1933 to 1949, as a tutor at Radcliffe from 1934 to 1940, and as an instructor at Wellesley College from 1938 to 1943. In 1941 she served at Pisco Bay in Peru as Grant and Faculty Fellow for Wellesley College’s Committee on InterAmerican Cultural and Artistic Relations.
Mary Sears chaired and helped to establish the First International Congress on Oceanography, held at the United Nations in New York in 1959. She also served on the Joint Committee on Oceanography of the International Council of Scientific Unions from 1958 to 1960. A Navy WAVE during World War II, she provided intelligence reports predicting the presence of areas of the ocean where submarines could help escape enemy detection. She was sent to Washington, DC during World War II to work in the Hydrographic Office, working with Roger Revelle and others until June 1946. Revelle, former Director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and founder of the University of California at San Diego, said in 1980 that “because the Federal Government has very little memory, it is generally forgotten that the first Oceanographer of the Navy in modern times was a short, rather shy and prim WAVE Lieutenant.
They underestimated the powerful natural force that is Mary Sears. That tiny Oceanographic Unit soon became a Division, and finally the entire Hydrographic Office evolved into the Naval Oceanographic Office, headed by an admiral with the proud title of Oceanographer of the Navy.” Her intelligence reports, “Submarine Supplements to the Sailing Directions,” predicted the presence of thermoclines, or areas of rapid water temperature change, under which a submarines could hide to escape enemy detection by surface sonar.
She established a small oceanographic unit in the Navy's Hydrographic Office and helped expand the role of applied oceanography within the Navy. In October 2000 the US Navy named a new naval research vessel, its sixth Pathfinder-class oceanographic survey ship, the USNS Mary Sears. This was the first time in it's 225 year history that the Navy named a research vessel for a woman.
Following mostly summer appointments at WHOI in the 1930s, she served on the scientific staff as a planktonologist from 1940 to 1963, eventually being named a Senior Scientist in the Biology Department, a position she held until her retirement in 1970. She was a Scientist Emeritus at WHOI at the time of her death in September 1997.
Mary was also a long-time Member of the Corporation, serving as Clerk of the Corporation from 1947 to 1973 and as Deputy Clerk from 1973 to 1975. She was named an Honorary Trustee and Honorary Member in 1976 On the occasion of her 80th birthday in 1985, Deep-Sea Research dedicated an issue to Mary Sears, noting that she “has probably played a greater role in the advancement of oceanographic studies than any other woman.”
As a member of nine scientific and honorary societies and long-time member of the governing board of WHOI, she was very influential in the development of WHOI, provided leadership across many oceanographic disciplines, and was an important mentor to generations of young scientists.