JoAnne Norton Mayer, a Marblehead native who was deeply engaged in civic life in town, the third woman elected to the Marblehead Board of Selectmen (now the Select Board) and a talented sailor, died Monday. She was 95.
Civic engagement and public service were cornerstones in Mayer’s life. Her tenure on Marblehead’s highest elected board, now called the Marblehead Select Board, from 1983 – 1987 began four years after the town’s second selectwoman, Marilyn A. Reis, who served from 1975-1979, finished out her service on the board. The first was Joyce Maffei, who served 1971-72.
‘A deep reserve of character’
“JoAnne was a true Marbleheader – strong, outspoken, forthright, optimistic, fair, generous, a pillar of the community with a lifelong striving to stand up and do what is right in service to others,” said Marblehead Select Board Chairman Mosses Grader. “JoAnne embodied the finest tradition of service to the town, loyal devotion to her family and friends and a deep reserve of character which she exuded in her leadership style and appetite for life.”
She replaced his Uncle Buck Grader on the Board of Selectmen, where he said she was “a dominant and thoughtful presence.”
The Grader and the Mayer families were quite close, Moses Grader said. Growing up in Marblehead, he said he found Mayer “exceptionally warm, enthusiastic, larger-than-life and a principled woman.”
In her obituary, her family wrote: “She always led using a modest approach with two standards: ‘Do-what’s-right, and stand-up-to-be-counted.”
Mayer deeply cared for the civic wellbeing and health of Marblehead. Her public service spanned several areas and causes: town recycling, open space and parks improvement, drug and alcohol abuse, fair housing, and the waterfront committee. She was heavily involved in the Marblehead League of Women Voters, leading its members as president at one point.
“We mourn the loss of JoAnne Mayer, a long-time member of the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Marblehead who loved this town and served it in many ways,” said Kathy Leonardson, a longtime LWV member. “JoAnne served on the LWV Marblehead leadership team for many years, and worked on candidate forums, helping craft questions and formats.”
Marblehead resident Ed Bell seized Mayer’s knowledge of the town: She was a regular panelist on his MHTV program.
“I loved having Joanne on ‘Up for Discussion.’ She knew town government like the back of her hand, and she added spice to the program,” said Bell. “She was direct but kind and always willing to stand up for her beliefs.”
He added, “She would have a twinkle in her eye as she relived some of the political battles that shaped our town.”
JoAnne was a mentor and friend to another League member who followed in her footsteps and was elected to Select Board Judy Jacobi,” said Leonardson. “JoAnne was a quiet pillar of integrity that exemplifies the Spirit of Marblehead, a true Marblehead treasure. She will be sorely missed.”
Her service extended into local and regional nonprofits: Marblehead Community Counseling Center, Winter Island Sailing Center and Courageous Sailing in Boston Harbor.
A talented skipper
Mayer was a member of Marblehead High School’s Class of 1944. She was a skipper of several boats throughout her life.
“Sailing was JoAnne’s lifelong passion,” her family wrote. “As a girl, skippering “Lark,” her Brutal Beast, she developed a love for the sport, moving on to champion the Marblehead Town Class fleet aboard “Black Watch.’”
Grader said “Black Watch” was named after the Scottish regimental unit that her dad, Joe, had served during World War II.
At Cornell University (Class of ’48), JoAnne was the first woman skipper to represent Big Red, captaining her team in many regattas from New York to Annapolis, Maryland, according to her family.
“With her husband Karl she skippered their Jolly Boat Cheetah, competing locally, nationally, and in World Championships,” her family wrote. “After Karl passed, JoAnne was often seen on Marblehead waters sailing her ‘Harbor 20’ or assisting the Corinthian Yacht Club Race Committee.”
Mayer’s family noted teaching her grandchildren to sail and watching them compete locally brought her joy.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Karl B Mayer Jr. Mayer is survived by her sister, Martha A. Norton, her sister-in-law, Catherine D (Kitty) Norton and her children Karl B Mayer III, Tommye Karen Mayer, Ann M. Grout and her husband Bob Grout, and Bob Mayer and his wife Kristin Mayer. She is also survived by her five grandchildren, Kate Lavoie-Mayer and her fiancé, Mark Noonan, John Lavoie-Mayer, Mary Lavoie-Mayer, Drew Grout and Tucker Grout.
In lieu of flowers, donate to the Marblehead League of Women Voters. Please make checks out to: League of Women Voters of Marblehead Send to: LWV of Marblehead, P.O. Box 1290, Marblehead, MA 01945 Private services will be held at the convenience of the family.
Correction: The Marblehead News incorrectly stated JoAnne Mayer’s position among the first women to serve on the Marblehead Select Board. She was third.