Mary Seton Corboy, Nov 18, 1957–August 7, 2016
Mary Seton Corboy, (born in Washington, D.C.) daughter of Joan Elizabeth (nee Cowley) Corboy and Edward Anthony Corboy loving sister of Regina Funk, Bill Corboy, Eileen Corboy, Nora Christie, Katie Kumkumian, John Corboy, Martin Corboy, and aunt to 12 nieces and nephews, graduated from Saint Anthony High School (Washington, D.C.), Wilson College and Villanova University.
Mary inherited the family gift for storytelling and relished regaling friends with the hilarious stories of growing up with seven siblings in a family reared in Washington D.C., Ethiopia and rural Pennsylvania. Throughout her life she was happiest when the lines blurred between friends and family at countless parties, vacations and projects that cemented her extended network of fans.
While serving as a property manager for Andrew Wyeth, the renowned artist captured Mary’s essence in the “The Liberal,” a riveting portrait that captured her beauty and strength.
Although her passion for reading and politics fed her intellect, her love of cooking enriched her early career as a chef employed at great haunts and fine dining establishments from Block Island to Montana, to the Philadelphia suburban restaurants, The Upper Crust and Taquet.
All the while, Mary sought to build something different that could marry her passion for good, healthy food, her love of physical labor, and the principal of “giving back.” Her life’s culminating work was the building of an innovative urban farm intended to breath life into the long neglected Philadelphia neighborhood of Kensington. There, in 1997, with her business partner Tom Sereduk, Mary reclaimed a trash-strewn, contaminated city block and built Greensgrow, now one of the nation’s most innovative and longest lasting urban farms.
As Mary and Tom constructed the greenhouses, hydroponic beds and thriving retail nursery, Mary began to fulfill her dream of employing cutting-edge sustainable farming practices to not just feed, but also nourish and employ the community. Mary’s described this labor of love in a 2015 Smithsonian magazine feature on Greensgrow as “taking the lot from abandoned to abundant.”
Adding to the long list of awards she received, just this year, Food Tank recognized Mary as one of the nation’s 17 Farmer Hero’s, noting that she is “heralded for not only growing vegetables, but changing attitudes around food.” In service of this mission, in 2015 Mary wrote and published a charming children’s book, “Blanche Gets a Job” chronicling the escapades of a troublesome feline who learns to love and be loved while helping out at her neighborhood farm.
The blossoming of Greensgrow coincided with Mary’s own battle with cancer and recovery. Ever the teacher, she shared her recovery strategies boldly saying “I’m proud to talk to other people and help other people that are going through it and see if some way my experience can make their experience a little easier.”
Although her life was a testament to the serious pursuit of change for the good, Mary will perhaps best be remembered for her combination of sass and piercing insights. When Philadelphia Magazine awarded Mary the Philadelphian of the Year in 2008, they said, “Armed with a Blackberry and a sarcastic wit, Mary Seton Corboy is showing Philadelphia that the solution might be right beneath our feet.”
In Mary’s life the personal was the political. Out Smart magazine featured Mary’s pioneering vision in 2011 in which she explained … “you can’t just demand things for yourself out of government and out of society and out of community. Obviously you need to do something yourself… to make the world better.”
Contributions in Mary’s memory can be made to Greensgrow:
Greensgrow, 2503 East Firth Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19125 or online here.