MARY VALLEE HUGER NOONE was born on May 8, 1956, the sixth of seven children to Lucie and Bernard Huger on an 800-acre farm in St. Albans, Missouri. She was a wild child, raised on the bare back of a horse, eating fruit fresh from the tree, and napping in the tall grass. She lived her life on her own terms and was never tamed.
She spent her formative education years at the all-girls Catholic school in St. Louis, Villa Duchesne. She was a fiery and smart girl who kept the nuns on their toes. She delighted her classmates by using songs to memorize state capitals and the periodic table. While she was a good student, she always longed to be outside.
For college she went to the Nation’s Capital to study American history, jazz, and art at Georgetown University and learned how to make her own way. En route to her final year of college, she joined her college roommate Kathy Walsh’s family for a fateful wedding in Connecticut. There she was introduced to their bearded, Appalachian Trail-hiking, wildland-firefighting cousin, Bob Noone who’d hitched a ride from the Appalachian Trail in Killington, Vt. with only 400 miles remaining to finish the Trail. For Bob, from that first meeting he was wedded to her completely. For Mary, Bob was unlike anyone she had ever (or would ever) meet. She was intrigued but wasn’t one to tip her hand too early.
While writing her senior college thesis, Mary’s father died unexpectedly. In the wake of her loss, she helped her mother and siblings pack up the childhood home, and then, just before her graduation from Georgetown, she got a call from Bob Noone who had spent the previous seven months since first meeting her finishing the Trail, but, more importantly, plotting with the determined focus of a man smitten, how to ask her out for a date. It was easier said than done; it took three phone calls over the course of maybe two minutes. Mary’s first response? She was delighted to hear from him, but was busy the next night; her response to Bob’s second call 30 seconds later? She was also busy the following night; her response to Bob’s third call 90 seconds later when he asked whether she would ever be free to go on a date with him? “Sure, how about next Monday!”
It wasn’t long before she knew what Bob had known months before, that they belonged together. After graduating, Mary traveled in a VW van with her college roommate Kathy and Kathy’s sister Eileen through the great American West, which included a pit stop in California to visit Bob at law school. Ultimately joining Bob in California, Mary got to work painting houses, printing pages, and writing ad copy for outdoor equipment stores, all the while building a random stable of friends with an assortment of artists, biker chicks, magazine columnists, underground entrepreneurs, and house renovators, all of various quirky persuasions.
On August 1, 1980, the hottest day of the year in humid St. Louis, she rolled her hair up in a bun, added some baby’s breath, and married that smiley man. For their honeymoon they drove a 20-year-old Volvo station wagon, which Mary had spent the previous six months single-handedly rebuilding from the tires up to get it ready for their 8,000-mile road trip through the rain, mud, and fog to Alaska. For over 42 years their honeymoon never ended.
In 1982 Mary and Bob packed up the Volvo and moved from California to a small rental outside Carbondale where they had their first baby, Charlie. This time was magical and transformative for her. As a new mom her creative life blossomed – painting, sewing and designing with new urgency and curiosity. In the fall of 1984, they moved from Carbondale to Glenwood Springs, at the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers, and, together, turned a beige house purple. This home became a vibrant reflection of her: bright, alive, chaotic and always open. Here she found her people. And those same creative, weird, and passionate people had been waiting for her. In that astounding community, she partnered with Bob in all things imaginable, raised her kids, threw parties, danced maniacally, dyed fabric, rode horses, painted murals, climbed mountains, generously distributed full-body hugs to friends and strangers alike, and never looked back.
Not long afterwards, Vallee and Claire, joined Bob, Mary, and Charlie in their new home. She taught them along with their brother Charlie how to mix colors on a palate, how to bake a dense chocolate cake without using a measuring cup, how to sing loudly, and how to dunk in cool spring runoff. As a mom, as in all things, she radiated spontaneity, adventure, and wonder.
It was in that community of Glenwood Springs, that she flourished. In 1985, with two kids under the age of two, Mary and Bob decided on a whim to start the Glenwood Springs Summer of Jazz, the first free, all volunteer, outdoor, community-centered multi-week summer concert series to be established in Colorado. For over 25 years and more than 200 concerts, they brought world class musicians like Sonny Rollins, Hugh Masekela, Allen Toussaint, Trombone Shorty, McCoy Tyner and Jon Cleary to our small mountain town.
Then, at the young age of thirty-five, with a growing family, her hands began to tremble. Her body began to shake, muscles clench, and gait wobble. On a cold February day at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, she was given the final diagnosis of Parkinson’s, a disease with a rapid and total decline. She and Bob were told by the Clinic’s doctors that it would be wise to begin making preparations for what they were certain would be a medical necessity within two years: her permanent move into a full time nursing home facility.
While driving home from the Mayo Clinic, Bob and Mary decided that if nothing else, the doctors’ recommended “preparations” would be fun and adventurous. Shortly after arriving home, they packed up their three children (then aged 2, 5, and 7), two dogs, tents, sleeping bags and surfboards and drove down the length of Baja California, Mexico. For weeks they camped under the stars on sandy beaches, drove down desert dirt roads, mumbled through broken Spanish, and made every day an adventure.
But contrary to her neurologists’ dire predictions, the worst didn’t come, so she carried on. Her life became the ultimate last hurrah.
She kept laughing, dancing, rafting, fundraising, hustling, and keeping the world turning. Amazingly, 20 years after she first began shaking, she found hope in the promising new surgical technique being pioneered at the Anschutz Medical Center in Denver, Deep Brain Stimulation surgery. Through the power of science, she became the bionic woman. In one of the best results of the surgery, she lived another 13 years with partial control of her Parkinson’s disease. She was reborn.
She kept stumbling forward, ever forward, hoping that, knowing that she would fall into something better. It is that determined optimism that kept her going through her first round of cancer treatments, radiation, chemotherapy, and speech therapy in 2018.
It was that same spirit that kept her going after receiving a new diagnosis of terminal cancer in 2021. That same spirit of hope, joy and humor helped her move with grace through her final days with Parkinson’s and cancer and to embark upon her ultimate adventure, death.
In her 66 years on this planet, she raised three children who, like her, are each uniquely wild, adventurous, and untamed. She loved Bob to the bone and together they thrived. She painted mountains, rivers, flowers, dogs, and forests in colors she taught us all to see. She was well loved and loved well.
It is safe to say that Mary Vallee Huger Noone was born, lived, and died, wild. She moved in ways all her own and never stopped creating. As a natural continuation of her life and values, she chose to have her physical body recomposed, or composted. In the spring, she will be returned to her family in the form of lush soil in which they will grow wildflowers and blossoming trees in the colors of Mary. Her Deep Brain Stimulator that gave her 13 extra years here, will be donated to another Parkinson’s patient in need of a jolt.
Mary is survived by her husband Bob, the second love of her life, Keith Richards, her son Charlie and daughters Vallee and Claire; brothers Greg Huger and Ray Huger, sisters Cynthian Huger and Catherine von Furstenberg Dussmann and many other aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, in-laws and cousins too numerous to mention but who know they were loved by her. She was predeceased by her parents, Bernard J. and Lucie F. Huger, her sister Lucie Huger Reis, her brother Bernard C. Huger, her loving horse, Virginia, her devoted canine sidekicks Cleo and Zada, and various other cats, dogs, birds, hamsters and other critters, all of whom she loved as full-on blood relatives.
Mark Your Calendars! All are invited to an informal celebration of Mary’s life scheduled for Saturday, October 15, 2022, from 3 to 5 p.m. at Mary’s second home, the Two Rivers Park Bandshell at Two Rivers Park in Glenwood Springs. – Rain or Shine –Summer of Jazz Rules will be in play: No glass, no pets(!), but for those so inclined, please bring a potluck dessert to fortify Mary’s spirit in her future travels.
Her family thanks each of her friends, family, doctors, neighbors, and community members who played a role in making her life and death meaningful and beautiful. In honor of Mary, stay wild. Listen to the music on “loud,” dunk in the river with your dogs, try to capture a sunset in bold hues, and bake without a recipe. Laissez les bons temps rouler!! – let the good times roll!