Most people earn applause after they speak, but not Mary O.
She was applauded from the moment she stood to make a statement in a crowded high school auditorium in 2007. She stood to rail against a development planned for her rural Pinckney Colony neighborhood near Bluffton.
"I've lived in Pinckney Colony on the Colleton River for 86 years," she said, "and I plan to live here and fight this development to my dying days."
That would be the last of her many rousing public statements for environmental protection. She would win that fight, just as she had won fights against others who wanted to despoil the river: a BASF chemical plant in 1969, a Chicago Bridge and Iron plant in the 1970s, and a boat-building plant in the late 1980s.
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Mary O. became such a rock star among the feisty group of environmentalists that, like Elvis, she didn't really need a last name. Together, they did all they could to keep Big Business from ruining the Lowcountry.
On Feb. 24, Mary Olive Pinckney Merrick, always called "Mary O." because there are so many Marys in her family, reached her dying day at age 92.
As the hearse rolled down the dirt road to the Pinckney Family Cemetery on land her family has called home since 1847, bright yellow daffodils filled the U-pick fields.
A clean river sparkled in the sun, and signs of life were spread all across her precious land. Her girls operate the certified organic Three Sisters Farm there, and four of her five children call the place home. And living in her former home is tiny Charlie Adams, her brand new great-grandchild.
Mary O. did more than give speeches about saving the Lowcountry.
She sold development rights for a fraction of the value of her 150 acres. And she put the land in a conservation easement that will keep it a family compound in perpetuity.
Her grandfather, father and husband farmed it, subsisting off the land and the bounty of the rivers and creeks.
The Pinckneys are a proud people, well-educated and well-heeled to boot, until the Civil War took care of that problem.
Mary O., who claimed 100 cousins, was the first from Pinckney Colony to be born in a hospital. Her mother, "Miss Olive" Gould Pinckney, went to Savannah for the birth because she was almost 41 when her only child arrived, a platinum blond with crystal blue eyes.
As a child, Mary O. had a pet fox squirrel, pet goat with a goat cart, a pony named Brownie, and the run of the place.
Inside was a country home filled with Liszt and Latin. Miss Olive was a renowned piano teacher who played organ at the Church of the Cross in Bluffton for 40 years. She had a grand piano in her home.
When Mary O. enrolled in a Bluffton school at age 6, they put her in the third grade. She graduated first in her high school class at age 15, and earned a science degree four years later from Florida State University.
Mary O. was at a music club in a quiet corner of Pinckney Colony, of all places, when she met a Massachusetts Yankee stationed on Hilton Head Island during World War II. She and Ed Merrick were married, and loved nothing better than raising their children, cows and a ruckus at Friday night square dances.
Mary O. became a pillar of her Catholic church, and touched many more lives as a math and science teacher in Bluffton for 30 years.
Barry Connor remembers well Mary O.'s statement to him shortly after he married her daughter Mary.
"Barry, I need your help," she said.
She needed him to do drawings, engineering and research on a major environmental project she and some other folks had tackled. They were successful in getting the state to change the Colleton River and nearby waterways to the state's highest environmental classification, thereby wiping out any future proposals for marinas and wastewater disposal.
"You didn't tell her 'no,' " Connor said.
Mary O. was good at rallying troops, always calling to remind people to write letters demanding a public hearing on environmental permits. And she did legal and scientific research, knowing her arguments had to be stronger than "not in my backyard."
It kept her so busy that Mary Connor recalls wondering in high school, "Where is my mother?"
Mary O. was a determined but genteel part of a cadre of people in southern Beaufort County who hammered away, often at their own expense, against lawyers, consultants, politicians, planning boards, bureaucracies, developers, secrecy, and even neighbors and relatives, to stave off environmental disaster.
"People need to know that what we see today didn't just happen," Barry Connor said.
And in the fight, the Mary O.'s of the Lowcountry established a conservation ethic.
As they pass it to a new generation, the least we can do is stand and applaud.
Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.