Community honors Milford woman, 79, with surprise party

Posted March 12, 2010, at 6:11 p.m.

MILFORD, Maine — Mary Rustin has only two speeds, her daughter said. A thousand miles an hour and stop.

“It’s true,” the 79-year-old Milford resident said Friday. “That’s the only way I know how to be.”

Even when she was diagnosed last October with a tear in her aorta — a condition that is likely soon to take her life — Rustin didn’t slow down much.

“If today’s the day [I die], that’s OK with me,” she said with a smile. “I’m not afraid to die. God’s been good to me.”

After Rustin spent her entire adult life as the go-to volunteer in Milford, community members felt she deserved to be on the other side.

Teachers and staff at the Dr. Lewis S. Libby Elementary School surprised Rustin on Friday with a party in her honor at the school. The event purposely coincided with the school’s Community Reading Day, an event that Rustin coordinated for more than two decades.

“She wasn’t able to plan [the reading day] this year, so others took over,” said Michael Bond, a teacher at the school and Rustin’s nephew. “But she still ended up doing most of the work.”

She didn’t know about the surprise, though.

“I can’t believe how many people came out for me,” Rustin said. “I think it’s a little bit much.”

Rustin’s daughter Cheryl Richard flew in Friday morning from Virginia to attend the party. She said her mom is the most optimistic person she knows, and she wasn’t surprised at all by the turnout.

“Even when the doctors gave her the diagnosis and told her how long she had left, she took a deep breath and said ‘Well, it wasn’t what I had planned, but if that’s God’s plan.’”

Bond said that when he was growing up, the town didn’t have a Cub Scout troop. His aunt made sure that changed. Later, Rustin started a Girl Scout troop and served as a troop leader for many years. She still volunteers at her church, the Holy Family Parish in Old Town, and teaches Sunday school classes. She also volunteers for a local hospice facility.

Richard called her mother a full-time volunteer.

“The doctors tell her to slow down, and she does pace herself now, but it’s what she wants to do,” Richard said.

Rustin shrugged when asked how it was that she developed such a civic spirit.

“I just like being around people,” she said. “I think I’m a pretty lucky lady.”

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