The National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum
Mary Ann Rossi — 2015

9th Rebecca Lukens Award Recipient

A native of Pittston, PA, a city midway between Scranton and Wilkes Barre, noted at the turn-of the-last century for its anthracite coal production, Mary Ann Rossi learned the meaning of loyalty at an early age. “My mother had an aunt, who was a bit eccentric, to say the least. But my mother was totally devoted to her. She took care of her, made sure she had all the food she needed, and when it came time for a nursing home, she visited her every Sunday. One day, the nurses said to her, “You are such a good daughter.” My mother was humbled, but replied, “I am not her daughter, I am her niece.”

“That lesson taught me much about loyalty as a key value,” says Ms. Rossi. “Loyalty to each other, loyalty to your religion, and loyalty to your family. Eventually, I expanded on that to loyalty to my community and those I serve.” In fact, when her colleagues are asked, loyalty is not her only value. Jaimielynn Cooper, Marketing Coordinator at MacElree Harvey Ltd., describes Mary Ann in this way, “She is a tough-as-nails attorney, yet simultaneously, she is wonderful to work with. She is a true leader. She doesn’t just tell you to do better; she makes you want to be better. And then she shows you how to do it.”

After spending four years studying high-school French at St. John the Evangelist in the suburbs of Scranton, Mary Ann thought it natural to continue with her education in language at Marywood College. She had a double major in French and English literature.  Her goal, after all, was crystal clear. She was going to be a college professor of Comparative Literature. “That’s all I ever thought about,” says Mary Ann. “Being a professor.” 

After her graduation in 1973, she went on for her Masters to Indiana State University to study French. While there, she was assigned to a language lab with a young professor, who possessed a doctorate in phonetics and who was teaching college Spanish. One day he asked her what she intended to do with her degree and she repeated the now rote line, “Be a college professor of Comparative Literature!” Without missing a beat, he flatly told her, “Well if you do, you’re going to starve.” Stunned, she asked him his opinion and his thoughts. “You should take the LSAT’s (Law School Admission Tests),” he said. In the back of her mind, she heard her mother’s voice from long ago saying, “The way you argue points, you should be a lawyer.” Not convinced, yet still thinking about it, Mary Ann took the test. She did so well that she indeed applied to law school. 

The moment of decision came all on one fine day. No one but her dog and she were home to greet the mailman with his two letters, one from Dickinson School of Law and the other from SUNY Binghamton. Both were acceptance letters. “I remember taking the two letters and placing them on the living room floor. I then walked around each of them for what seemed like forever. I can tell you the dog wasn’t much help in my decision. Finally, I took a coin and tossed it. It landed on the letter from Dickinson College and that’s the story of how I became a lawyer.”

But Mary Ann’s empathy for her fellow man (and woman) goes far beyond the multitude of boards she sits on or the organizations to which she has graciously donated her time. A turning point in her life came when she was diagnosed twice, not once, with a cancer. It’s not something she wears on her cuff or speaks about freely. However, like most survivors, she understands the principles of the lesson. “It’s about helping other people when they are diagnosed. Giving them information, support and encouragement. Even something as seemingly mundane, but vitally important, as telling them what medications worked best for me at the time.”

When you come back from the edge, life looks different. And just as Rebecca Lukens before her, Mary Ann knew what it took to push through and go on to share a life with her beloved husband, Jeff Lewis, a law-school classmate, with whom she shares a lovely home and a gray tabby, named Roxie.