Dr. Mary Frances Fulford Green

Dr. Mary Frances Fulford Green, of Cortez, Florida, passed away on June 9, 2022, at age 96, surrounded by family, while her granddaughters were singing to her on Zoom and sharing their favorite memories. No Hollywood director could have scripted it.

Her roots in Cortez go back to the late 1880s when it was settled by her grandfather, Capt. Billy Fulford and his brothers from North Carolina. She still lived in the house she grew up in, on Sarasota Bay, with her 91-year-old sister, Irene.

Even in her later years, she was a force of nature. Indeed, as the reactions to her death poured in, she was described as: "a commanding personality," "a force to be reckoned with," the "matriarch of Cortez," "a remarkable woman" and perhaps most perfectly, "strong, tough, spirited and, at times, somewhat impossible."

Her achievements were legion, but these anecdotes might better capture who she really was.

She was the oldest of seven children of Edith and Tink Fulford. With her father usually on the water, her mother had her hands full, so Mary Frances, as she was called, helped to raise her younger siblings. It was her first training in telling people what to do; she never stopped.

She was only 16 when she graduated from Bradenton High School, in 1942, as the class Valedictorian. It was an honor she was always quick to mention. But her intelligence was self-evident. The caption for her senior photo in the yearbook was from the poet Oliver Goldsmith: "And still the wonder grew, how one small head could compass all she knew."

After Pearl Harbor, the trigonometry teacher enlisted and was shipped off to war. An English teacher tried to take over but couldn’t fathom trig equations. So Mary Frances taught the class. She would read ahead in the textbook, make up the homework and quizzes and grade the tests.

She considered this honor as class Valedictorian not one of flattery, but of service. For over 30 years, she organized annual class reunions. She produced an annual newsletter, for which she called each surviving classmate, tracked down if they had died or were in a nursing home, and duly recorded the toll. "There are only seven left," she reported in her 2022 edition. Now there are six.

The war was personal to her. One of the students in her trig class, Buddy Hatton, was shot down in the Pacific. "We lost him," she said, mournfully, two weeks before her death, "and they never found his body." Seventy boys from Cortez served in the war, 17 of whom were her first cousins, and five died. As recently as May 2022, she was writing a grant to fund a Veteran’s Hall of Honor in Cortez.

She was the first of her family to go to college, graduating from Florida State College for Women (now FSU) in 1946. After majoring in biology and chemistry, she worked as a medical technologist. During her final hospital stay, she would proudly tell any nurse who came to draw blood, "I set up two labs, including the one at Manatee Memorial Hospital."

In January 1949, she married Benjamin C. Green, a career Air Force man. She gave birth to four children in six years, and moved 17 times in 11 years, including flying from New York to Paris, by herself, with four children aged six and under.

In 1960, her husband retired from the Air Force and they moved to Tallahassee. While teaching full-time at Rickards and Leon High schools, she went back to FSU to earn a master’s and a doctorate in higher education, putting her children to work typing her dissertation.

In a graduate psychology class at FSU, she was required to write a psychoanalysis of herself. "In short," she concluded, "I talk too much." No one would disagree.

Despite growing up in the Deep South, she believed in racial equality, which she attributed to Floy Bell, her Sunday school teacher in Cortez, who taught her Galatians 3:28: "There is neither slave nor free…for you are all one in Christ Jesus." She demonstrated that belief many times.

She was a champion for women. A licensed mental health counselor, she co-founded HOPE of Manatee for victims of domestic violence and served as its Director; served on Florida’s statewide task force on the status of women and founded WINGS, to help women leaving prison find jobs.

Being a role model for women was personal. For 30 years, she dressed up as her Grandma Sally and led walking tours and dinner cruises around Cortez. To honor that tradition, her granddaughters will be dressing like her at the funeral, wearing the purple and lavender and lime green colors she loved.

 No one was more passionate about preserving Cortez. Since 1985, she has led protests to prevent Chris-Craft from building a huge recreational marina, save the Cortez Trailer Park, keep the Cortez Post Office open and prevent the Cortez Bridge from being replaced with a multilane flyover.

She helped to organize the Cortez Village Historical Society (CVHS), obtain numerous funding grants; place Cortez on the National Register of Historic Places; form The Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH) and purchase a 100-acre FISH preserve; turn the 1912 Cortez School into the Florida Maritime Museum and preserve the historic Burton Store. She was renowned for the strawberry shortcake that she sold every year at the Cortez Fishing Festival.

Above all, she would say that her greatest work was for the church. A life-long member of the Church of Christ, she had her own personal Christian ministry, teaching Sunday school, leading Bible studies at the Manatee County jail, purchasing hundreds of Bibles and supporting Christian ministries worldwide. Soon after meeting anyone, she was sure to ask, "Are you a Christian?"

A prolific writer, she authored numerous columns and articles in local papers, and several books on Cortez, including her most recent, "Grandma Read the Bible." Fittingly, she even wrote her own epitaph: "She did all she could."

No one would disagree.

She was preceded in death by her parents, Walton "Tink" and Edith Fulford; her husband of 52 years, Benjamin Clyde Green; her brother, Ralph Fulford and sister, Belinda Porterfield. She is survived by sisters, Irene Taylor of Cortez, and Anna Dean Riddick of Searcy, AR; brothers, Wayne (Betty) Fulford of Stanley, NC and Gary Fulford of Bradenton; two daughters, Cathy (Tom) Ryon of Locust Grove, VA and Carol Kio-Green (Jim Kio) of Tallahassee, FL; two sons, Ben Green of Tallahassee, FL and Mark (Mary) Green of Cordova, TN; 13 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.

The Visitation will be from 5-7 PM, Friday, June 17, 2022, with Services at 11 AM, Saturday, June 18th at Brown & Sons Funeral Homes & Crematory 26th Street Chapel, 5624 26th Street West. Burial will be at the Historic Palma Sola Cemetery. A reception will follow in Cortez at Fisherman’s Hall.

Condolences may be made to www.brownandsonsfuneral.com.