Mary Montgomery Class of 1974
1974 Asheville High School alumna, Mary Montgomery passed away.
A re-print from the Asheville Citizens-Times
Mary Montgomery would have turned 61 Wednesday, and she would have been celebrating at lunch downtown with her closest friends, including Elizabeth Trask.
But Montgomery, an Asheville native and Olympic swimmer died Aug. 24 at her home at the Asheville Racquet Club.
Montgomery, the youngest of Wayne and Betsy Montgomery's five children, was a world-class swimmer, having set nearly 50 records.
At the incredible age of 15, she competed in the 1972 Munich Olympics - the same year Mark Spitz won seven gold medals. Montgomery finished in sixth place with a time of 5:09:98. In 1975, Montgomery won a silver medal in the 800-meter freestyle at the Pan American Games in Mexico City.
"It's very shocking to lose her, especially at such a young age," said Trask, a retired anesthesiologist who has known Montgomery since the first grade at Claxton Elementary School.
"She had a great smile and was such a loving person," said Trask.
"When she went to the Olympic Trials and made the team, everybody at Asheville High School was so in awe. When she came back, a bunch of us met her at the airport and had a big assembly at school to honor her."
She was a fierce freestyle swimmer, but excelled at all strokes, including breast, back and butterfly.
"Mary and the kids on the Asheville Swim Team trained in mornings before school and in the afternoon. I don't think she actually took any time off from school to train for the Olympics," Trask said.
"I think she tried to do a lot of normal things, like going to high school football games, but when you're training at that level it's hard. She was very focused at that point in her life. She was very determined to be an Olympian."
Montgomery was coached by her mother, Betsy Montgomery, who died four years ago in a car accident. Betsy was well known for her swimming technique and her coaching skills.
"Her mother was the big swimming coach in WNC, drawing admiration for her swimming form and technique," said Amy Pless Fleming, an Asheville real estate agent who was a "friend since birth" to Mary Montgomery and swam with her under Betsy's coaching.
"You could see where Mary got her technique. Every time she swam, people wanted to know how she swam so beautifully and effortlessly."
But more than her stunning teenage athletic feats, Trask said Montgomery will be remembered in Asheville as a beloved friend, daughter, sister and mother, and someone who never met a stranger.
Friend to all in Asheville
"Everybody that met Mary loved her. She was so personable and sweet," said Montgomery's older sister, Ann Sims.
She said Mary started swimming "right out of the womb." Their mother was Mary's coach from the beginning, coaching her alongside nationally ranked swimmers.
All five children started swimming at the Bath Club, which is now the Manor apartments in North Asheville. Woody played football, Swope played baseball, Jane jumps horses and their parents were master swimmers and loved to play tennis. Ann competes in triathlons, including Ironman.
"We grew up in a wonderful family that very active and loved the outdoors," Sims said.
"I think most athletes have to have that inner drive. I don't think you can make someone become an athlete. I don't think Mom pushed her more than the rest of us. Mary had natural ability to be a fabulous athlete. She decided that this what she wanted to do and she did it."
Sims said her sister was in and out of the pool throughout her life, but after her competitive years ended, she turned to coaching.
Montgomery had another older sister, Jane, and two brothers, Swope and Woody, two step-grandchildren and several nieces and nephews.
Wayne Montgomery, who still lives in Asheville, is a former mayor, city councilman and county commissioner, and an orthopedist who was one of the founders of Blue Ridge Bone and Joint, and was on a "gazillion" boards and organizations, Ann Sims said of her father.
Mary Montgomery attended Asheville High and graduated from the Newfound School. She was inducted into the WNC Sports Hall of Fame and received a swimming scholarship to Florida State University, where she started having health issues, Sims said.
While in college, Montgomery contracted encephalitis which most likely led to her epilepsy. She struggled with the disease throughout the rest of her life, Sims said.
She was first married in 1983, then divorced and remarried to Tim Ferris, a Marine who took the family around the world. They lived in Okinawa, Japan, for a couple of years where Mary loved to collect Japanese art.
The couple had three boys, now ages 24-28. Sims said when Mary divorced Ferris, he took the young children to Virginia, where they still live.
It was hard on Montgomery not being able to see her children often enough, Sims said.
Later in life, Montgomery developed a mountain-sized love of Western North Carolina, its history, its people and its crafts. She began working in wood crafts and painting and wrote poetry.
Montgomery also had several jobs around Asheville that brought out her friendly, warm, gregarious side and her deep knowledge of WNC's history and culture. She worked at the Biltmore, Grove Park Inn and Bohemian Hotel as a concierge.
"She was a very loving person and always interested in what you were doing. When she'd meet someone, she'd always ask your name and where you were from. She was always interested in people, very kind.
"She was a great concierge because she was very interested in people. Wilson (Ann's husband) is from Nashville, and every time she'd meet someone at the desk who was from Nashville, she'd call up Wilson and say, "Do you know so-and-so?" That's how she was, she loved connecting people. One of her great gifts was her love of people."
Montgomery grew up in the First Presbyterian Church but also was active for a time in the Mormon Church.
"She was very open-minded about religion," Sims said.
"She was so good to her friends, and had a beautiful spirit," her longtime friend Fleming said. "There just couldn't be a more beautiful person."
Sims said there will be a service for Montgomery at the end of September at Groce Funeral Home in South Asheville. A date has not yet been set, but the service will be open to the public.
A memorial guest register for Montgomery is available at www.grocefuneralhome.com.