Mary Ann Cartwright sits outside on campus

A Passion to Serve the Community

Mary Ann Cartwright '72

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Raised with a belief in public service, Mary Ann Cartwright ’72 learned that taking care of your community is the highest calling. Her parents were very active in West Michigan; her father was elected to public office and was one of Grand Valley’s founders.

To honor their parents, Cartwright and her family established the Edward F. & Margaret M. Wiest Sr. Memorial Endowed Scholarship to assist Grand Valley students in their education and to nurture their passion for public service.

“Activism on a local, state and national level is so important to the survival of our democracy,” said Cartwright. “This scholarship will go to students who are truly dedicated to making a better community for everyone.”

What do you do for a living?

I am currently “of counsel” at Rhoades McKee, a law firm in downtown Grand Rapids. I was recruited from the Kalamazoo City Attorney’s Office, where I litigated a wide variety of legal claims. I initially handled workers compensation cases and medical malpractice defense work, but the firm soon saw the need to develop a labor/employment practice. Because I had experience in handling those cases for the City of Kalamazoo, the firm asked me to pioneer that section.

Why did you choose that profession?

I have always loved history and politics but while I was at Grand Valley, I had the good fortune to be taught some basic law classes by a wonderful professor, Rick Meana. He brought those classes to life with his passion for the law. Shortly after graduation, I started law school.

What are your favorite hobbies?

I enjoy nature, whether it is hiking, biking, camping, kayaking, swimming or golfing. My two daughters are highly active and enjoy the great outdoors. Once, my daughter, Molly, wanted to go zip lining during one of our family vacations. We were in Jamaica and when we signed up, we basically signed away all our protections for liability if something went wrong. I barely slept that night! Zip lining was formidable – you could see the jungle, flowers and the ocean from way above. When we finished, I wanted to go again.

Mary Ann Cartwright and her brother stand side by side, embracing

Mary Ann Cartwright '72 is pictured with her brother, Thomas E. Wiest '79, at the DeVos Center on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus.

Can you tell us about your parents and their views on education?

Wyoming is called the "City of Vision and Progress." As mayor of Wyoming, my father saw what was proposed as Grand Valley as a guarantee of both, and he was actively involved in ensuring its birth. He recognized a strong need in the community for a four-year college, especially for students who needed to commute because they were working their way through college. I was one of those kids. 

There were seven children in my family, but a college education was an expectation. My parents never said "if you go to college," it was "whenyou go to college." I was encouraged by them to go to law school in an era when not many women were steered into professions. In my class of 133 students, there were only three women. My father believed that everyone needed an education and told me to, “reach for the highest star.” He did not believe in giving up. My mother always said to me, “If you educate a woman, you educate a generation.” She also believed that eventually it would give you the ability to help your family financially.

What is one of your most memorable moments as a GVSU student?

The best memories I had were of President Don Lubbers coming into the Commons and having coffee with the students. He was genuinely interested in our views and thoughts. He encouraged activism and creative thinking. Since I graduated and became a lawyer, my path has crossed with his many times. He had countless lunches with me when I was a new lawyer and always gave wonderful advice. He was especially helpful to a young woman starting life in a professional environment that was predominately male. How many young people have access to their college president? I love this about GVSU and believe that the presidents who followed President Lubbers have remained accessible to their students.

What impact do you hope the Edward F. & Margaret M. Wiest Sr. Memorial Endowed Scholarship will have on students?

My hope is that this scholarship will help a student on their way to becoming a passionate member of the community by contributing their time and talents. Public service is a wonderful vocation. Talented young people will lead the world forward. There are so many challenges ahead for which their expertise and willingness to serve will be required. My family is excited to be a part of helping them achieve their goals.

What would you like others to know about giving through scholarships?

I cannot think of a better way to honor a loved one, help your community and give an opportunity to a student than scholarship money. The cost of education has risen enormously and every penny helps. GVSU is dear to my heart; several of my siblings, nieces and nephews, and cousins got their start in life at this institution. What better way is there to honor our college than to give back?

What advice would you give to the students who are coming to campus for the Fall semester?

Follow your dreams and passion. Whatever you do, give it your best. Love what you do because you will never feel like it's work. Yes, it will be challenging and have ups and downs, but you will feel so rewarded by being able to do what you love.