Mary Gay Stephenson

Mary Gay Stephenson of Columbia, MO passed away on April 26, 2021 at her home. Mary Gay was born July 20, 1930 in Kansas City, MO to Tanner Gay and Mayette Amos Stephenson. She was a pure force of nature; she lit up every room she entered with her vibrance, sense of style and remarkable smile.

Mary Gay was a graduate of Paseo High School and so enjoyed returning for reunions. She moved to Columbia to attend Mizzou receiving a B.S. in 1951 and a Master of Arts in 1969. She was proud to be a member of the Pi Beta Phi Sorority, where she made lifelong friends.

While at Mizzou she met and married Harry C. Cooper, Sr. They made St. Louis home and raised two sons.  Although they later divorced, she remained in St Louis and enjoyed a long teaching career with the Ferguson-Florissant School District. She was a gifted elementary school art teacher, making sure each student was successful and was sometimes referred to as “the magical art teacher”. Her lessons left students feeling proud of their creations.

Post retirement in Columbia, MO she enjoyed teaching at Countryside Nursery School for four years and hosted a summer art school for elementary students. Learning and art were her life-long passions. Later, while living in Phoenix, she co-chaired the annual Heard Museum Guild American Indian Student Art Show along with her kindred spirit Marilyn Holroyd. Mary Gay also loved to travel, embracing new cultures and traveling internationally into her mid-80s. Before traveling to a new place,she would voraciously read and learn as much as she could about the history, people, art and culture of the place she was visiting.

Mary Gay was most proud of being a mother, grandmother, great grandmother, special aunt and friend extraordinaire.  She was committed to many causes, taking the time to publicly express her views and opinions, trying to make the world a better place. She was a vivacious participant with family and friends and is deeply missed.

She is survived by her sons Harry C. “Chip” Cooper, Jr. (Jane) and William C. “SteveStephenson of Columbia; Granddaughters Jennifer Cooper (Elijah Edwards), Lauren Cooper (Greg Linde) and Allison Cooper Stubbs; Great-granddaughters Sylvie and Johanna Edwards and Ingrid Cooper-Linde. She also had many nieces and nephews that she held dear.

Mary Gay donated her body to the University of MO School of Medicine.  A celebration of Mary Gay’s life is scheduled for August 7th at the Riechmann Indoor Pavilion at Stephens Lake Park, 2300 East Walnut St., Columbia, MO. from 11:00 a.m. till 2:00 p.m.  **PLEASE NOTE THIS EVENT HAS BEEN POSTPONED DUE TO SAFETY CONCERNS REGARDING THE COVID-19 DELTA VARIANT.**

Online remembrances may be shared at

Memorial contributions are suggested to:

The Heard Museum Guild

American Indian Student Art Program

c/o The Mary Gay Stephenson and Marilyn Holroyd Fund

2301 N. Central Ave.

Phoenix, AZ 85004

For other payment options contact:

Jack Schwimmer

Manager of Donor Engagement

602.251.0245 direct |


  1. Bob Manges on June 6, 2021 at 4:09 pm

    Fond memories of our neighbor and friend. Mary Gay was the person who got me a job at Wedgwood. She indeed will be missed. I often used examples of her art work to “inspire” young art teachers.

  2. Karla Malaney on June 13, 2021 at 2:46 pm

    Chip, Jane and grands,
    So sorry for the loss of Mary Gay. Love this synopsis of her life. Definitely cool to have had an artist and a teacher and an activist in your midst. Chip you obviously inherited a trait or two from your dear Mom! Another parent to fashion ourselves after!

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