This ‘dynamo’ never quits

Published 3:49 pm Thursday, November 25, 2010

After 48 years of life in the fast lane, Eclipse resident Mary Carson is finally retiring.

However, it wasn’t her family who talked her into it, and it’s certainly not because she disliked her work.

It was the cancer that finally put her at home.

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“The family had been after me to retire for three years,” Carson said. “The cancer ultimately helped.”

Even so, Carson is what some folks — including her husband — call a “dynamo.” As part of her job at the Armed Services YMCA, she landed and took off from two aircraft carriers. For business and pleasure, she traveled to 38 states and 12 countries. It took her seven years to earn her Bachelor of Science degree in business by attending night classes, but she finally graduated at the age of 58.

In between, she owned a women’s clothing store, managed her sons’ motorcycle and auto racing teams, was instrumental in setting up the military lounge at Norfolk International Airport, and even owned a pet skunk before doing so became illegal.

“They just make a wonderful animal,” Carson says, by way of explanation.

One of her first adventures after marrying her husband, Elwood, was to open The Cricket Box, a store for young women’s clothing. The business lasted only three years.

“I opened right ahead of the major recession in the ‘80s,” she said.

In 1985, Carson moved to public service work with the Armed Services YMCA, eventually becoming the associate executive director. The job took her all over the world.

“Rome was very interesting,” said Carson, who is Catholic. “The biggest thrill was going to the Vatican. It put chills on me when I walked in. It means so much to you when you go in there to see it.”

Her favorite destination, however, was in the United States, though it still meant a long flight.

“I love Hawaii,” she said. “I just love Maui. I would just go there and live, but the kids and the grandkids are here.”

The family’s adventures brought on by their sons’ racing exploits added another facet to their lives, particularly since Carson was in night school at the time.

“It left me no time for the family,” she said. “We’d be at the race track, and I’d be with my nose in the book.”

Still, the family managed to fill a scrapbook with newspaper clippings, photos and more from their racing days. Sons Tod and Kelly racked up hundreds of trophies through the years.

One of the boys once beat Denny Hamlin — who recently came in a close second in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup championship, the highest honor in NASCAR racing — at Langley Speedway in Hampton. Another time, Dale Earnhardt Jr. visited the track and asked to race in one of the boys’ cars.

“My son said, ‘There’s no way we’re going to lay out of this race,’” Carson said.

In spite of her fast-paced lifestyle and unflagging energy, Carson’s health began to get the better of her three years ago. A routine blood check at the doctor’s office revealed severe anemia, and Stage-3 kidney disease was the next blow. An ultrasound revealed a malignant mass in her right kidney last year, which was removed in February.

Carson retired in August from the Coliseum Central Business District in Hampton. Recently, a bout with colitis put her in the hospital for a while. But she’s back out now, trying to figure out what her next adventure will be.

“I’ve lived a full life, so I have nothing to complain about,” Carson said. “I can honestly say I’ve had a very fruitful life.”