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Honoring Dr. Mary Fulford Green

CORTEZ — Imagine a Cortez village where the fishing bungalows and working fish houses have been replaced by high-rise condos and a 140-year history is left unrecorded.

Dr. Mary Fulford Green, a lifelong Cortez resident who passed away on June 9 at the age of 96, made it her goal to ensure that none of that ever happened.

In recognition of her leading the many efforts to preserve the character of the village she called home, she is named The Sun’s 2022 Person of the Year.

“She certainly has quite a legacy,” said Kaye Bell, former president of the Cortez Village Historical Society (CVHS). “She was always either supporting something or stirring something up.”

Green’s long list of accomplishments centered around three things: the preservation of Cortez, her family and her faith.

In 1984 Green was instrumental in establishing the CVHS.

“Without her we wouldn’t have CVHS,” said Bell, who met Green in 1965.

In a recently drafted resolution to dedicate the Cortez Village Historical Society Cultural Center in honor of Green, CVHS board member J.B. Crawford wrote the following to be placed on a proposed plaque at the site:

“The Cortez Village Cultural Center is dedicated in honor of Dr. Mary Fulford Green for her lifetime commitment to Cortez and her brilliant work to preserve and communicate the cultural history of Florida’s last remaining traditional fishing community.”

Green led the effort to have Cortez village listed as a federal historic district. She wrote the application and lobbied successfully to have Cortez put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.

“Cortez is what it is today because of Mary,” Crawford wrote in the resolution. “Her efforts blocked numerous attempts to alter the nature of our small hamlet…Cortez is now forever preserved as historical heritage, thanks to Mary and her army of supporters.”

Green was one of the founding members of the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH), which gradually purchased 95 acres on Sarasota Bay which is now known as the FISH Preserve to protect and enhance the habitat for wildlife. The purchase also ensures that the property on the east side of the village will never be developed.

“There was no bigger advocate for Cortez. She saw it as something that needed to be protected.  She was instrumental in starting FISH and the CVHS. It was her who made sure that Cortez was designated for its historic significance,” said FISH Treasurer Jane Von Hahmann. “She was the matriarch of Cortez.”

Honoring Dr. Mary Fulford Green
Mary Fulford Green – Cindy Lane | Sun

“She was instrumental in defeating development,” Bell said. “We had our disagreements from time to time, but she didn’t back down on anything. She stood firm.”

Bell said Green stood out on Cortez Road every Saturday years ago with others to protest the building of a new bridge.

“Before that, Chris Craft wanted to build a marina and that didn’t happen,” she said. “It goes to show what a few strong people can do.”

Green authored “Cortez – Then and Now” with Linda Molto in 1997.

“This book is one way of telling you who we are,” Green wrote in the “Cortez-Then and Now” introduction. “It is our hope that you will help us in keep Cortez as it is – an active commercial fishery. We want to keep on ‘keeping on’ doing what we have done for over one hundred years.”

She and Molto also produced the “Walking Tour Map of the Cortez Fishing Village.” Green also was a cookbook author, locally famous for her strawberry shortcake.

Green did not slow down in her 90s as she opposed the planned closure of the Cortez Post Office in 2021, voicing the concerns of senior residents. That post office remains open.

“For those who knew her and her many accomplishments, Mary’s legacy is visible throughout the village. Mary embodied preservation,” said CVHS President Cindy Rodgers. “Her efforts to help preserve the historic physical structures by working to get Cortez on the National Register of Historic Places, helping to create the Cortez Village Historic Society and preserving the 1912 Cortez School, now the Florida Maritime Museum, and the historic Burton Store, now the home of the Florida Folk School, as well as the surrounding environment, the FISH Preserve, have all contributed to Cortez continuing to function as a unique working fishing community after 120 years.”

Born in Cortez in 1925, Green was the granddaughter of 1887 Cortez settlers William Thomas Fulford and Sallie Adams of Carteret County, North Carolina. She was born in the house next door to the one she lived in when she died, the Walton “Tink” and Edith Wilson Fulford house, which the family moved into when she turned 1 year old.

She raised two sons, Mark and Ben, and two daughters, Cathy and Carol, with her husband Benjamin, who retired from the U.S. Air Force.

The valedictorian of the Bradenton High School, later Manatee High School, Class of 1942, Green was selected as Manatee High School’s Outstanding Alumna in 2020.

She earned B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees at Florida State College for Women, now Florida State University, in Tallahassee in science, chemistry and education. She taught high school science classes, was a guidance counselor in Florida’s public schools and helped to create the career counseling program at State College of Florida in Bradenton.

She was a licensed mental health counselor and served as president of Manatee County’s Mental Health Association for seven years.

A life-long member of the Church of Christ, she had her own personal Christian ministry, teaching Sunday school, leading Bible studies at the Manatee County jail, purchasing hundreds of Bibles and supporting Christian ministries worldwide, according to her obituary.

Rodgers said, “Mary’s epitaph reads, ‘She did all she could.’ Yes, she did.”

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