Mary M. Scanlan, human services advocate, consummate volunteer, environmentalist and champion of wildlife conservation on the Upper Cape, has died at the age of 96. Ms. Scanlan, who moved from her longtime Mashpee home to the senior living community at Thirwood Place in South Yarmouth several years ago, died April 9.
She was the daughter of Lorena McLachlan Scanlan and Harry J. Scanlan. Her father died in 1930, when she was quite young.
Raised in Danbury, Connecticut, she began her schooling there. Her mother wanted to be sure her daughter had the best education possible, so she was sent to the Dana Hall School, an independent boarding and day school in Wellesley, to finish out her high school years in Massachusetts. She would ultimately receive her master’s degree in social work in 1956 from the Boston College School of Social Work and participate in a course in consultation in 1968-69 at Harvard University’s laboratory of community psychiatry.
Ms. Scanlan worked as a psychiatric social worker and supervisor and mental health coordinator at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center. She became chief social worker at the Cambridge-Somerville Mental Health and Retardation Center. Involved also in education of social workers, she was a field supervisor at the Boston College School of Social Work, the Smith College of Social Work, and Simmons College School of Social Work.
At the same time, she had a private practice in Cambridge.
In 1978 Ms. Scanlan was chosen from among 70 candidates as the new human services coordinator for the Town of Falmouth. Although her work experience had been in Boston and Cambridge, she knew the Cape through summers spent at her home in Mashpee. In Falmouth she led a team of two full-time and one part-time social workers.
She then accepted a position in the outpatient department for the mental health center in Pocasset.
For many years, Ms. Scanlan was a member of the Mashpee Human Services Committee, including in the role of chairman in the early 2000s. She resigned from that committee in 2015.
In addition to her life’s work of helping people in need, she was civic-minded and passionate about conservation and protecting the environment.
She participated in the Volunteers in Government Service in the first year of the program’s existence in town. She was largely responsible for the proposal for Mashpee’s first community garden, which got approval from the board of selectmen in July 1993. In the schedule of fees for the plots, Ms. Scanlan noted that a reduced rate would be provided for low-income residents. A few years later she became a part of the Upper Cape Cod Organic Gardening Group.
She was a member of the all-volunteer Beautification Council of Mashpee and served on its board of directors; this group organized an effort to plant bulbs on roadsides and municipal areas in town during the 1990s. Members maintained the plantings and participated in Daffodil Days in Mashpee each spring until the group disbanded at the end of the summer in 2002. The council won a “Working Together for a Better Cape Cod” award in 1997 for the townwide gardening effort.
At a November 1996 meeting of Mashpee Conservation Commission Ms. Scanlan asked for permission for maintenance in perpetuity for selective vegetation removal and pruning at Fells Pond Road.
She stayed informed about the nitrogen management study in Mashpee and open space proposals.
With the Friends of the Mashpee Wildlife Refuge she helped out with educational programs, including the well-attended “Wild About Wildlife” events at Mashpee Commons and Mashpee Public Library during which Ms. Scanlan helped families put together bird feeders during a workshop.
In 2013, Ms. Scanlan was the first recipient of the David Ross Palmer Award for her dedication to the Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge and in supporting the efforts of carrying out habitat enhancement and trail development and mapping, as well as enhancing public awareness of the refuge. Established in 1995, the refuge encompasses nearly 6,000 acres that protect important natural areas and a great diversity of wildlife habitat in Mashpee and Falmouth. The award was named after the founder and first president of the Friends of the Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge.
Ms. Scanlan began volunteering with Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod more than 17 years ago. She served as a family partner and on the family partnership and selection committees, the Upper Cape chapter and on the board of directors. She was honored in 2016 with Habitat’s Spirit of Service Volunteer Award.
In an e-mail communication with Habitat, staff said that “esteemed volunteer” Mary Scanlan was known for helping fellow volunteers and staff to be thoughtful, caring and effective in addressing difficult issues. “It was a joy to be in her presence. Mary led with grace, dignity and humility. For her, it was always about the families. She will be missed.”
She leaves her sister, Margaret C. Platka of Hingham; a brother, Joseph J. Scanlan of Bristol, Rhode Island; and other relatives.
She was preceded in death by her brother Harry J. Scanlan in 2007; and, in 1991, by her mother.