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Mary Margaret Farabee: In Memoriam

Philanthropist and Texas Book Festival co-founder has died
Robert Faires, 12:30pm, Tue. Mar. 5, 2013
Photo by Jana Birchum
Mary Margaret Farabee

One of the city's most engaged philanthropists and energetic supporters of the arts has passed away. Mary Margaret Farabee, who was the original spark and guiding light for the Texas Book Festival, as well as an advocate for a host of other cultural and social causes, died Sunday morning after a long struggle with cancer. She was 73.

A Dallas native, Farabee made her way to Austin in the late Fifties to attend the University of Texas and after her graduation with honors made the city her home. Over the next three decades, Farabee's commitment to social causes and the arts were reflected in several of her jobs – at the Austin State Hospital, Texas State Historical Association, Texas state senate, directing volunteer services at Seton Hospital, raising funds for at KLRU-TV – but it was after Mary Margaret's marriage to former Texas state Sen. Ray Farabee and took on volunteer work as her full-time job that her impact on Austin came to full flower. She hatched the idea for a festival celebrating the literary achievements of Texans to be held on the Capitol grounds, and once the Texas Book Festival established, she chaired its board for eight years. She played a significant role in the restoration of the Paramount Theatre, the installation of the Philosophers' Rock statue at Barton Springs Pool, the conversion of Charles Moore's home into a nonprofit center for architects, and the establishment of the MOLLY National Journalism Prize, honoring journalism in the spirit of Molly Ivins. But beyond those, Mary Margaret threw her considerable philanthropic weight and activism behind dozens of causes, among them the Heritage Society of Austin, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Wittliff Collections at Texas State University, Ransom Center at UT, Austin Museum of Art, KUT, KLRU, People's Community Clinic, Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, Texas Child Study Center, Dell Children's Blood and Cancer Center, UT Press, Texas Democracy Foundation, AIDS Services of Austin, Austin Community Foundation, Friends of the Governor’s Mansion, Huston-Tillotson University Leadership Program, and Junior League of Austin. It sounds exhausting, but Mary Margaret never seemed to be exhausted. She gave as fully as any Austinite could, and her generosity and spirit were honored with the Most Worthy Citizen award from the Austin Board of Realtors and induction into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame by the Austin Critics Table.

Mary Margaret Farabee is survived by her husband Ray; daughter Patricia Albright; stepson Steve Farabee and wife Karen and their daughter Sara; and stepson David Farabee and wife Terri and their children Worth, Nancy, and Russell.

A memorial service will be held Monday, March 18, 10:30am, at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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