In the 441 Diner of GC’s Max dining hall, students lined up for the comfort of home-cooked food. The warm smell of fried chicken, green beans and cornbread filled the diner. Behind the glass of the hot line stood Ms. Mary, leaning forward to talk to the next student, spooning steaming-hot peas and chicken onto plates.
The line of students trailed outside of the diner, but Ms. Mary kept things moving. She was a patient and calm presence amid the clamor of plates and conversation. Sometimes she offered a smile to a coworker or took the time to ask students how they were.
Mary W. Butts, lovingly called “Ms. Mary” by students, said that greeting and meeting students is her favorite part of her job at The Max.
“It’s terrific cause a lot of them need that, somebody’s care, cause they’re away from home,” Ms. Mary said. “I try to make them feel as comfortable as possible. I can tell when they’re having a bad day.”
This is why she prefers being at the front of the house. She has worked several positions at The Max, from deli prep to cook to salad bar. With positions up front, like salad bar and hot line, she gets to know the students, and they get to know her.
“Actually, a couple of them up here know where I stay,” Ms. Mary said. “They come by my house, we sit down and chat, and I enjoy chatting with them.”
Ms. Mary said she speaks up for students. If one asks for something different, she goes to the back to tell the chef.
One student, a cross-country runner who has since graduated, always ate the cashews and sunflower seeds at the salad bar for energy. When they were taken off the line, Ms. Mary made a point to get them from the back for him.
“And he told me, he said, ‘You don’t know how much these sunflowers and cashews help me with my running,’” Ms. Mary said. “‘It makes a difference.’”
When she asks students if they’re going home for the weekend, Ms. Mary tells them to be safe and that she’ll see them Monday morning.
“She always asks me how my day is going,” said sophomore Sidney Parker, an environmental science major. “I really feel like she cares about me.”
Students also sometimes ask her to pray for them when they’re having a bad day, and she assures them she will.
“Cause I’d want someone to do the same for my kids if they were going to college,” Ms. Mary said. “Make them feel welcome, make them feel like somebody here do care.”
Coworker Tracy Webb said that she enjoys working with Ms. Mary and that she’s a very friendly person with coworkers and students alike.
Outside of work, Ms. Mary said she loves fishing and going to church. She also stays at home cooking for and babysitting her nine grandchildren.
She has taught one of her granddaughters how to play softball, and she is currently teaching another.
Even though it’s fast pitch softball, which is different from what she used to play, she can still teach them the fundamentals. She said that her grandchildren are what keep her young.
“They say when you get 60, you get old,” Ms. Mary said. “I don’t get old. They [her grandchildren] keep me full of spirit.”
This passion for softball traces back to Ms. Mary’s childhood and is actually how she met her husband. He used to follow her team when she played softball as a young girl.
“And so he asked on a date, and we went on a date, and ten years later, we got married and been together ever since,” Ms. Mary said.
Now she and her husband have been married for 38 years. Together, they have five grown kids and nine grandchildren.
She also spends much of her time with her brother, who is in the VA hospital and has Alzheimer’s and prostate cancer.
“When I leave here [The Max] every day, I go out there and sit with him till 9 o’clock at night,” Ms. Mary said.
When asked what she enjoyed doing for herself, she said she just liked helping others and giving back.
“That’s my blessing for the day,” Ms. Mary said. “That’s how I get my blessing, by helping others.”
Even though she said her hands are often full, she knows can still give to others. She said this attitude was instilled in her by her mother.
“I try to give back cause you never know when you’re going to need someone,” Ms. Mary said. “You got, you give.”