Following in the Footsteps of Greatness…

Mary Glass is inspired every day by her mother’s legacy
- August 16, 2021 -

WORDS: Bre Jones Mulock

Like a flipbook of vintage Florida postcards – popping with vivid color and rolling seascapes – Mary Glass’ childhood stretched out before her with idyllic, adventure-seeking charm filled with sandy horse trails, bare feet, swimsuits, and spontaneous football scrimmages on quiet streets.

A dreamy, tropical snow globe to explore, the 1950s and 60s Sarasota unfolded during a time when famous authors gathered at restaurants over strong coffee, circus performers practiced in shaded spots just off the streets, and Glass – at age 12 – garnered the confidence to ease out the family’s Boston Whaler from their Whitfield Estates home and drive it to the Holiday Inn where she and friends could catch a movie downtown.

Independent, free, curious, and always seeking new knowledge, Glass grew to sprinkle her creative energy across dynamic corporate careers and traveling the world before a heart pulled her home to give back to the community she loves and appreciates. The community where her family has stood watch for decades like a stoic oak tree, hugging and protecting the landscape and driving roots deep into the rich layers of history.

Public service and education – longtime core values thriving in the Glass home – collided when Glass leaped from the corporate world to the philanthropic circle 14 years ago, taking action as president for the Manatee Education Foundation and enhancing opportunities for public school children and teachers.

“I thrive on change,” said Glass, her sapphire-blue eyes peering over a floral, gold-rimmed teacup as she sipped. “It’s a gift – a talent. I love to change things up and keep things fresh. At first, I was apprehensive, but as time went on, I grew to love working with the district and helping our teachers enrich the classrooms for our students to excel. After all, it’s all about the children.”

After diving into the fast-paced boat industry, working for Chris Craft, and traveling 40 plus weeks a year navigating acquisitions of prominent real estate companies for a national marketing team, Glass gathered up her experience and talent to steer the helm of Manatee Education Foundation. A not-for-profit organization established in 1988 that provides indirect support to the Manatee County School District through various programs that benefit students and teachers. Cultivating a liaison between the private sector and the public school system, the foundation builds avenues for business, industry, and community involvement in public education.

“This is a foundation where all money really and truly does go back to the schools, and Mary is an amazing leader for it,” said Dr. Robin Thompson, interim executive director of Curriculum and Professional Learning for the Manatee County School District. “She’s credible and trusted with no hidden agenda and deep roots in the community. As a team player, she is open-minded and will talk to everyone at the table.”

As the only foundation solely dedicated to providing funds for pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade public schools in Manatee County, MEF has fueled dreams and manifested opportunities with a kaleidoscope of programs such as Soar in 4, Teacher IMPACT Grants, STEM Education Initiatives, and Arts Education funding to name a few. When the pandemic roared through the school system, Glass never missed a beat, quickly forming the COVID-19 Relief Fund. When she discovered a dire need for Wi-Fi hotspots nestled in at-risk neighborhoods during remote learning, she helped raise $40,000 in a matter of weeks to supply an initial 81 mobile Verizon Hotspots and one year of service for each device.

“I felt like my past careers – my ability to really thrive under pressure and function in a really fast-paced environment – prepared me for thinking on my feet during the pandemic,” said Glass, who was elected to the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations in 2017. “I don’t believe in repetition. I like new ideas and perspectives.”

Petite with a soft voice and a quick step, Glass buzzes around her small office where books line shelves and awards peek out discreetly if you look hard enough. Hovering over grants to review, she shuffles papers and fondly sifts through a stack of thank you notes meticulously colored in crayons from elementary school children. Rainbow drawn happy faces and glued photos of kids sporting wide, toothless grins jump from the notes. They express gratitude for unique programs like robotics and STEM literacy or supplies like the $34,000 in LEGOS depicting careers and handed out to every Title I school in Manatee County.

“Our mission is to provide funding for innovative programs and enhanced educational opportunities for the teachers and students of Manatee County Public Schools beyond allocated state dollars,” said Glass, who loves learning a new word each day and visiting art museums with her niece in St. Pete. “Over the years, it has been a blessing to do what I do. Giving back is the greatest reward.”

Glass has modeled giving back after her mother, Pat Glass – Manatee County’s first female county commissioner who was inducted in 1978 and served 25 years fighting passionately for her constituency.

Loved for her spirit and tenaciousness in getting things done, Pat Glass achieved monumental goals such as lobbying the Florida Legislature for funds to construct a non-profit hospital for the mentally ill and those battling substance addiction in Manatee County. In the mid-1980s, she helped push along the sale of Manatee Memorial Hospital so the proceeds would cover the cost of healthcare for the homeless population for three decades.

Focusing on children, she helped create the Children’s Services dedicated millage – a tax that continues to provide the most impactful social service funding for children and families in Manatee County.

Tears pooling in her eyes, Mary Glass reached inward to reveal the fluid inspiration that continuously flowed from her mother, who passed away last year at age 93.

“She was the one who guided me to come work here,” said Mary Glass, her voice softening to a near whisper. “She was always such an influential role model to me, especially in leadership qualities. She loved her constituency, and they truly loved her back because she listened and looked forward to helping people solve problems.”

In 2018, 12 years after she retired, the Manatee County Commission named its meeting chambers in her honor: The Honorable Patricia M. Glass Chambers.

Perhaps the Glass family has impacted and inspired the robust list of MEF supporters that throughout the years have included Vernon DeSear, Rick Fawley, Dottie McCarthy, Harry Kinnan, Ross Hodges, and Senator Bill Galvano, to name a few. Raising millions of dollars in support of education over the last 25 years, MEF has partnered with the Galvano Golf Classic, a tournament in honor of Bill Galvano’s father, Phil Galvano, who coached golf to a range of famous Hollywood stars.

“I have had the pleasure of working with Mary on the Galvano Classic for many years,” Senator Bill Galvano said. “Every year, she is consistently enthusiastic and genuinely excited about the event. She really cares about the students and teachers we support. She leads with her heart, and all of us in this community feels it. I am proud to call her a friend.”

While a separate entity, MEF dances alongside the Manatee County School District in beautifully choreographed steps. Superintendent Cynthia Saunders expressed gratitude for the passion, drive, and creativity that pours from Mary Glass.

“The impact that Mary Glass and the Manatee Education Foundation have on our community is immeasurable,” said Saunders. “As a champion of public education and the arts, we’re blessed to have her in Manatee County.”

Just before the Earth begins to glow each morning, Mary Glass meditates and finds strength in her Catholic faith. She walks, weight trains, and geeks out over jigsaw puzzles that help her relax. She can whip up a mean Paella in the kitchen and devour lessons streaming from Khan Academy.

Growing up with three brothers and a sister, Glass cherishes family nestled close to her heart. She holds a degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida, but her passion lies in art history.  At the impressionable age of 17, she lived in Europe for six weeks, finding herself gazing in awe at masterpieces like the Mona Lisa and the Wedding Feast at Cana at the Louvre, wondering about the intriguing lives of artists.

“I’ve always had an affinity to the arts,” said Mary Glass, who proudly hangs student art won from auctions in her home. “I’ve always been pulled into those classes – painting, sculpture, photography. I’m fascinated by artists and their lives. And I’m fascinated by what people consider art.”

Mary Glass’ eyes glow with enthusiasm when she mentions how MEF formed in 2018 the Manatee Arts Education Council, which helps promote, celebrate, and support the arts. The council has hosted two Arts Alive celebrations and Arts Rise and Shine – an arts leadership event held at FELD Entertainment.

“An arts education is so important because it encourages students to create, collaborate, and problem-solve,” said Mary Glass, who vividly remembers the exciting night an original Theo Wujcik painting was delivered to her family home just before a rainstorm. “It opens up opportunities to grow– just life in general. Creativity is going to be the next frontier for job opportunities. We had the industrial and then the tech. Now creativity is going to play a key role in future jobs.”

It’s no surprise Mary Glass has cultivated and supported forward-thinking and innovative ideas for MEF. Her reputation for listening echoes that of her mother’s.

“She is always committed to finding out ways to learn more and get updates on research-based, new programs,” said Thompson. “She will get on board with programs and do anything she can to help raise money for funding.”

Setting her teacup down for a moment, Mary Glass proudly lifted her chin and smiled broadly, preparing to reveal a fun fact. The pioneering, 12-year-old spirit who navigated Sarasota and Manatee County waterways has glowed inside her all along. When just a lone Hungry Howie’s rested among fields, Mary Glass settled in as one of the first residents of Lakewood Ranch – 26 years ago.

“Do you know who told me this area was going to be the next big thing?” Mary Glass asked, pausing for a moment. “My mother did. We drove out there, and I put down the deposit that day.”

Viewing Manatee County like her mother, Mary Glass professes a deep love for the community that has shaped her life.

“I see Manatee County like my mother did,” said Mary Glass. “She loved, loved, loved this county and always focused on what the county had to offer.”

That perspective shines as a relief to all who cherish the many talents of Mary Glass.

“We don’t have to worry about her going off somewhere to do big, grand things,” said Thompson. “We don’t have to worry because she is doing big, grand things here.”

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