A Life Lived - Mary Monks

Mary Monks, the longtime municipal court administrator in Avalon, never called out sick once in 34 years of working for the borough where she lived.

Photo provided by Joe Breslin

Mary Monks worked until the day before she died.

That didn’t surprise people who knew her, because Monks went to work as Avalon’s court administrator just about every day since 1983. Her friends and family say she never took a sick day in the 34 years she worked for the borough, starting in the construction office.

But what may have been a surprise, even to longtime colleagues, was that Monks was 90 years old when she died last month.

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Her daughter, Joanne Monks, let the truth slip out as she told her mom’s story recently. But while Mary was alive, her age was a closely guarded secret.

And people would ask, said Joe Breslin, Monks’ deputy since 2005. Some visitors to her office would ask Monks herself; others would quietly ask Breslin or somebody else. They never got the real answer.

Mary didn’t even start her court job until she was almost normal retirement age. In fact, she and her husband, James, had retired to Avalon — he was a Gulf Oil accountant, and they lived in suburban Philadelphia before they moved to the shore to take it easy.

James really didn’t mind taking it easy before he died, in 1991. Mary was happier staying busy.

And she could do that in her court job, especially in the summer, when shore towns come alive with visitors, traffic and noise.

“She would often work until 8 at night in the summer because we’re so busy,” Breslin said. “She’d come in on Sundays, too, after church. She’d go to the police station to listen to the citizens’ complaints.”

Chris Carter, of Cape May, retired this year as manager of all the municipal courts in Atlantic and Cape May counties. She called her friend “the height of a professional,” and said Mary was a great resource for her colleagues.

“When I started that job, there were times I couldn’t put my hands on a (court) directive or couldn’t find a law right away” in a pre-computer era, Carter said. “I would always call Mary. I’d say, ‘Do you remember that directive that came out about 10 years ago?’ She’d call back in 10 minutes and say, ‘It wasn’t 10 years ago, it was 15.’ And she’d fax it to me, in those days.”

That combination of memory and organization never failed her, either.

“She was sharp as a tack, the entire time,” Carter said.

But even if Mary never called in sick, she was happy to use her vacation time in the winter, to go on exotic trips with her daughter.

“In her 80s, we went to Tanzania on safari ... and slept in a tent,” Joanne Monks said. “We went to South America and took a cruise down the Amazon.”

There were more adventures — Australia, Egypt, Turkey — but Mary always had to get back to work.

A Life Lived appears Tuesdays and Saturdays.

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