“Memory is a crumpled map of lost roads,” said poet Judith Barrington during the San Miguel Writers Conference in February. In the days when roadmaps were essential tools, folded and refolded, she recalled, the part that showed what we needed to find would often be lost in the worn out creases or missing corners.
The life of Mary Denman seems a map overly populated with momentous landmarks. “The Song Lady” of “Toyland Time” on KVDO-TV in Corpus Christi moved on to be the host and producer of a weekly interview show on KENS-TV. After eight years, she became the first woman to co-anchor the station’s news. For many years after, so long she began to refer to herself as ”one of the oldest broads in broadcasting,” Mary hosted talk shows on WOAI and KRRT-Radio.
It is no secret that hosts of television and radio shows are pestered to death by those seeking airtime to promote their favorite causes. I was among the many who warted her often, and, amazingly, Mary always would graciously return every phone call and listen, no matter how trivial the pitch. Despite her successful ascent up the career ladder, she remained active in such organizations as Women in Communications and American Women in Radio and TV to help others seeking to follow the pathway she blazed. Mary regards experience as something you share, similar to the way Dolly Levi describes money:
Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.
Mary has never been content to lead her life through the lives of those she has interviewed. Her effervescence refuses to be corked into the hours of her day jobs and over and over again has bubbled on stage in musical and dramatic roles from “Hello Dolly” to “GBS in Love.”
Mary’s step still has the “spring and a drive” of Dolly Levi, but her roadmap is crowded. Chancey Blackburn reports Mary now is engaged in perking up the spirits of everyone at the Emeritus Memory Center, where she cheerfully has assumed “her new role of ‘confused aging ingénue’ with gusto and brio.”
Mary’s act always has been an impossible one to follow, but those of us a few years behind hope to reach her age with even a small percentage of her enthusiasm for life intact.
As “Dolly” Denman has belted out numerous times on stage and might even be humming as I type:
For today the world is ripe as a peach,
it’s going to be mine till I reach a 110.
May 9, 2012: Jim Forsyth of WOAI has posted the news of Mary’s death:
San Antonio media legend Mary Denman, who would joke that she was the ‘oldest broad in broadcasting’ has died at the age of 90, 1200 WOAI news reports.
The list of things in radio and television that Mary was the first to do would go on into tomorrow. Among them, she was the first woman to appear on television in Corpus Christi, when she hosted Toyland Time’ as ‘The Song Lady’ on KVDO back in the early 1950s.
In San Antonio, Denman became the first woman to co-anchor a newscast on KENS-TV, where she also hosted ‘Our Town,’ a weekday interview program.
She worked in public relations, and then she joined WOAI Radio in 1975, when the station made the switch to news/talk. She produced talk shows and was the first host of the ‘Morning Magazine’ show, which aired every morning from 9 to 11.
Eliza Sonneland, who joined WOAI as Mary’s producer and later succeeded her on the show, remembers Mary as somebody who was fighting for women’s equality before there was such a thing.
“When she was being told that you can’t have a raise, and you are already married and you already have a husband who makes money and he is supporting the family, a lot of people back then would be going, ‘well, that’s true’,” she said. “Not Mary.”
Mary won the Broadcaster of the Year Award from American Women in Radio and TV back in 1973, when there weren’t many woman in radio and TV. She won Joske’s Woman of Achievement Award in 1984, and the National Achievement Award and the Silver Award of Excellence from American Women in Radio and Television in 1995.
Mary died Wednesday of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease, according to her friend, former Bexar County Court at Law Judge Bonnie Reed. She had been in declining health for two years.
After leaving “Morning Magazine,” Mary hosted ‘Prime Plus’ on WOAI, as well as on the old KENS-AM and then on KLUP-AM until December of 2004.
She also ran a local marketing and public relations agency with her husband, who died in 1991.
Mary was also very active in local theater, serving on several boards at the San Pedro Playhouse and performing in numerous productions.
“She fought for her right, and she did interesting things. She actually had her face lift recorded and made a program out of it, to tell other women, this is what you go through, this is what it was like,” Sonneland said. “She feared nothing.”
May 15, 2012, Update: A memorial fund in honor of Mary Denman can be found at The Playhouse.