Obituary: A South County legend passes

Thu, 09/27/2012 - 3:21pm

By Iain Wilson

South County Independent Staff Writer

SOUTH KINGSTOWN –Mary Carpenter, 94, a Matunuck fixture since 1935, has died.

Mary Carpenter was as Matunuck as the Vanilla Bean, the Ocean Mist and the former Maroni’s Market.

And she was one of the few locals who had been in Matunuck longer than the three establishments combined.

Carpenter, the woman who oversaw the Carpenter’s Beach Meadow vacation community on Matunuck Beach Road for nearly eight decades, died Monday morning. She was 94 years old.

She leaves behind a legacy of fostering community values in the place she was so deeply devoted to.

Mary was a member of the Carpenter family, which, for years, owned large swatches of coastal property and farmland in Matunuck. In 1935, at the age of 17, she joined the family business: operating the meadows, which at the time was a collection of tents a stone’s throw from Block Island Sound.

Her first gig at the meadows consisted of collecting 50 cents from patrons to park their car on the property or stay in a tent on the campground.

While the family managed the meadows, they also owned properties at the Matunuck Trailer Park Association and Carpenter’s Bar and Grill, now the Ocean Mist.

In the late 1960s, she sold candy and beach necessities at Mary’s Country Store, located on the curve on Matunuck Beach Road where the Vanilla Bean currently stands.

“I remember Mary when I was younger always smiling and always saying hello. She looked at us cottage owners not as tenants but as ‘family’ and that’s why there are so many extended families,” said Frank Tassoni, who owns a cottage on leased land in Carpenter’s Beach Meadow.

Tassoni said he plans to pass the traditions of Matunuck to his 8-year-old son, Alex, a direct reflection of Carpenter’s efforts to embrace her residents and promote a culture of family values within the friendly confines of Carpenter’s Beach Meadow.

“Mary Carpenter epitomized Matunuck,” said Tassoni.

“She always had finger on the pulse of Carpenter’s Beach Meadow,” said Lisa Karin, officer manager at the campground for the last eight years. “There’s no question about it. She had a very strong passion and compassion for her people there.”

Her leadership of the 290-cottage community only grew as years passed with the deaths of her five brothers.

“Mary was there all the time. She was always in the office whenever you needed her for every thing,” said Jackie Therrien, who has spent 60 summers in Matunuck, 45 of them in her cottage at Mary Carpenter’s. Carpenter took a particular liking to Therrien’s pug, Ollie, whenever she would bring him to the office. “She loved my little dog. Every time I would bring him in office, she’d light right up. She used to throw him marshmallows and he loved to catch them.”

From the middle of May to Columbus Day, Carpenter routinely made sure her guests were well.

She would often ask her driver to drive slowly through the rows of the campground to make sure her campers were enjoying their time in Matunuck. As the car drove up and down the roughly 16 streets, she would stop and say hello to her guests.

“She was just a very gracious and giving woman,” said Karin. On random occasions, Carpenter would visit Carpenter’s Farm Stand on Matunuck Beach Road to purchase vegetables and hand bags of fresh produce to employees.

“It could have been any hour of any day,” said Karin.

As she aged, she remained sharp, and routinely checked in on operations at the family business.

“She made darn sure she did,” said Karin.

Until her death, Carpenter would make routine trips to the office.

“She was here as often as she could be for work. She’d have paper work all over the place,” said Karin.

She was the sister of the late Gilbert C. Carpenter, Arthur B. Carpenter, Jr., Benjamin S. Carpenter, Wanton R. Carpenter, Harold H. Carpenter and Susan R. Carmody.

Reporter Iain Wilson can be reached at