Mollly Tully

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Memorial Minute
Mary Ellen (Molly) Wood Tully

May 29, 1926 – November 3, 2021

Molly Tully, a birthright Friend and longtime member of Friends Meeting of Washington, was of the generation of talented, educated women whose lives were often summarized as “wife of.” No one would make that mistake in describing Molly’s extraordinary life that intertwined public service, volunteer dedication, and personal warmth. 

Molly transferred into Friends Meeting of Washington from West Chester Friends Meeting in Pennsylvania in March 1981. Growing up, she attended George School and Hood College (where she received her B.A., majoring in French), and went to Normandy with the Experiment in International Living. Her husband, Andrew Tully, was a well-known author and syndicated columnist. 

Molly had a long career in public service, including working at the American Embassy in Paris, at the Office of Economic Opportunity, and for a number of powerful members of Congress, including Philip Hart and Barber Conable, and as an assistant on the House Select Committee to Investigate Covert Arms Transactions with Iran (the “Iran-Contra Affair”) in 1987. As a volunteer, she was a member of the National Board of the Medical College of Pennsylvania and vice-president of the Parents Council of Washington. In 1995, she served as project director of the family outreach program for Martha’s Table.

Most within the Meeting community were surprised (and at least some were secretly delighted) to learn that during her time at the Embassy in Paris, she worked undercover for the Central Intelligence Agency, as a contact for local operatives in the union movement in France, handling covert operations and finances.

Even prior to transferring her membership, Molly became deeply involved in the life of the Meeting. Records show her membership on the Religious Education Committee as early as 1977. She was at various times a member of House Committee, Overseers, Ministry & Worship, Worship & Family, Nominating, Trustees, and a member of the William Penn House Board. Few serving on a committee could match her dedication and hard work. She delighted in bringing her instinctive Quaker knowhow into the process of refining the work of committees, yet she was graceful in letting go when she felt that others could better serve. She spoke, for example, of “the spiritual rewards and energy which I have received in the past months” as “gifts which I cherish.” Speaking of what made her enjoy serving on committees, she wrote, “The energy of people coming together with a common purpose and who are enthusiastic about the challenge of our work.” No Pollyanna, she noted that she was impatient with “Those who are unable to articulate or who belabor unnecessarily irrelevant issues.”

Later years in life are a matter of luck, in part, and Andy Tully drew a short straw as it became increasingly clear that he was disappearing into the fog of Alzheimer’s Disease. The disease is devastating not only for the patient but also for caregivers. For men with successful public careers, the lack of activity and wounded egos can make them angry and ungrateful. Molly felt the weight of the disease. Characteristically, she decided to act; characteristically, she approached the problem with a brave, cheerful heart. As she wrote,

Ironically, when I reflect on my most rewarding experiences during a lifetime of interesting adventures, it is not the years in the foreign service nor the years on Capitol Hill that have brought the most satisfaction. … We knew instinctively that they [our husbands] would not last five minutes in a day care center. So we decided to start our own. … [Friends Club] grew to four hours a week, gradually adding lunch and then professional entertainers and more than a dozen men each week.”

Starting in 1990 and supported with free space and a small grant from the Meeting, Friends Club provided a dignified space for men to meet for reminiscing, singing, field trips, community service projects, and friendships. Importantly, if also provided dependable respite time for spouses and caregivers. By 1994, the program had grown and required more space; it moved to Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Bethesda. Intent on helping others needing an organized program, Molly wrote a handbook with Joan Turner, Join the Club: Meeting the Special Needs of Men with Alzheimer’s Disease, that provides detailed guidance on replicating the program that is one of Molly’s lasting contributions to others.

When speaking of Molly, her many friends universally recall her energy, her willingness to roll up her sleeves to pitch in, her common sense, and her ability to laugh at setbacks, then find ways to move forward. Even near the end of her life, she enthusiastically talked about adventures – perhaps a ride on a hot air balloon? – and retained her zest for a fully-engaged life. Her warm smile was an outward manifestation of her giving heart. She is deeply missed by all whose lives she touched.