Brownsville philanthropist celebrates 96th birthday on Mother’s Day

Wearing a yellow outfit, a flowery blouse and a white headband, Mary Yturria sat in the middle of her home party room as she shared some of the most cherishable moments she has collected throughout the years in Brownsville. The philanthropist celebrates her 96th birthday this Sunday and plans on spending it surrounded by her closest family members.

The legacy of Mrs. Yturria in Brownsville is endless. With a school named after she and her husband, the late Frank Yturria, education is one of her biggest passions, but it does not end there. From bringing the first ambulances to Brownsville, to opening centers for homeless girls, donating to the art museums, founding the Historic Museum and fighting to improve the quality of life for the residents of this city by co-founding the literacy center, or by making sure that the Brownsville Police Station obtained the building where they are now located, Mrs. Yturria has spent most of her life working for a better Brownsville.

Originary from York, Alabama, Mrs. Yturria joined Pan Am Airlines in late 1944 to help in the war effort. She was transferred to Brownsville in 1946 where she met Frank. The next year, she married him on her 22nd birthday. Throughout their years together, they were involved in several philanthropic and charitable causes and received a proclamation by The City of Brownsville together back in 2003 for their work in the community.

“I got married on my birthday. And, sometimes Mother’s Day is on the same day, and I think ‘Well, I don’t know if I was so smart to do that’,” she said laughing. “When I got to Brownsville, I was young and I have always been very idealistic, I wanted the best for everyone. And, the poverty just devastated me. I tried to do whatever I could to make things better, to make the world a better place then how I found it.”

Throughout her years in Brownsville, Mrs. Yturria has also been the president of the American Cancer Society, board member of Catholic Charities, president of the Brownsville Public Library Board and on the founding board of Brownsville Literacy.  She served on the Founding Gulf of Mexico Program Board to work toward monitoring the ecological well-being of the water.

But her philanthropy also includes other gestures. For several years, Mrs. Yturria would send hundreds of tamales to the Brownsville Police Station during Christmas for those who had to work.

Even though she is a woman of many passions, to her the most important one is education. She said it is a way out of poverty and said something has to be done to reopen the Brownsville Literacy Center. The center closed its doors in 2019 due to lack of funds.

“Stop to think about this for a minute, there are so many people here that, to no fault of their own, they cannot read and write in English or Spanish,” she said. “They cannot even file a job application and we take those things for granted. And so, we started the Brownsville Literacy, there was four of us that started that, it was three men and I.”

When asked about what makes her the proudest, Mrs. Yturria said her two daughters, Dorothy Elizabeth and Mary Eleanor. She has three grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

“I always told my girls, roll up your sleeve and never say ‘I can’t do something’ and I’m so lucky that my girls, my daughters, they are wonderful,” she said.

Dorothy Elizabeth said she describes her mother as one of a kind, a doer and a shaker who never accepts the norm. She said while growing up her mother was a huge critic, but now she understands it’s because she wanted her to be the best.

“My mom is one of a kind. She is a doer, she is a shaker and she never accepts the norm,” she said. “As I was growing up, a lot of people were just playing golf and, really, not doing all that much. And, my mother was doing the impossible, she was always moving mountains when everybody said she couldn’t. She was a huge critic, but I realize now, that she was critic because she wanted me to be the best I can be. She’s a great inspiration.”

This week, the City of Brownsville did a proclamation honoring and recognizing her for all the work she has done for Brownsville throughout her years here. The proclamation designates May 9 as Mary Yturria Day.

Brownsville City Commissioner Jessica Tetreau, who proposed the proclamation to the city, said it was important for her to honor Mrs. Yturria because she is a “wonderful and caring person.” She said it isn’t just her generosity that she admires, but the fact that Mrs. Yturria does everything from her heart.

The commissioner has early memories of how she heard of Mrs. Yturria and what she was doing for education in Brownsville back when she was a child.

“As a child, my mother was a first- grade teacher at Vermillion Elem. During that time, Mrs. Yturria donated coloring books and resources that taught fire safety to children, because she knew the importance of preparing children for a situation that could help prevent a tragedy,” she said.

“My mom had her students write thank you letters to Mrs. Yturria to thank her for her generosity and Mrs. Yturria wrote back a hand-written note to my mom thanking her for being a teacher and believing in the children of our community.”