Published 3:39 pm Thursday, May 26, 2022
Oxford community leader Mary Lexa died May 21, 2022, after a sudden illness. One of the achievements she was most proud of was the establishment of the Baptist Cancer Center in Oxford. Mary and her late husband, Jerry, attended every meeting of Mississippi’s State Board of Health for more than a year to convince the board of the need for a cancer diagnostic and treatment center. They distributed a questionnaire to the church community— African American and white churches—and civic clubs asking such questions as if you have cancer, how far are you traveling to treatment, is it a financial burden or transportation challenge, and do you know anyone unable to receive treatment because of these challenges? At the time, the closest treatment centers were in Memphis, Tupelo, and Grenada. At the last meeting they attended, representatives from Tupelo and Grenada voiced their opposition. One facility told the board of health they opposed Oxford getting a center because it would take revenue away. The other facility said they never voiced opposition to the Lexas’ petition because they never thought two private citizens would get so far along in the hearing process. The board unanimously voted to approve the certificate of need. The Baptist Cancer Center opened in 2002. In the past 20 years, the facility has been expanded twice, and it currently serves more than 1,100 patients a month from more than 17 neighboring counties. In a cruel twist, Mary died seven days after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was 84. Born in Milwaukee, WI, where her husband was also from, she and the family moved to Oxford in 1968 upon Jerry’s return from serving in the Vietnam War. He spent the last years of his decorated Marine Corps career at the NROTC unit at the University of Mississippi. When Jerry drove Mary around town the first time, he said, “Well, that’s it.” She asked, “That’s what?” When he told her that was the whole town, she informed him they would stay three years until his retirement and then they were moving. They did, indeed, move—just not the way she envisioned that day. They both were movers in the community. Mary was heavily involved with an ecumenical women’s group from St. John’s Catholic Church, Oxford-University United Methodist, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, and First Presbyterian to create a food bank and clothes closet for the needy in the late 1960s. First a volunteer at Oxford Elementary, she served as secretary for 25 years. While some joked that she ran the school, she also established an emergency clothes closet for kids at the school and did not hesitate to call friends for help buying winter coats and shoes for needy elementary students. In 2001, Mary was named Citizen of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce, and separately Jerry also named a Citizen of the Year, making them the first couple to be so honored. She was a volunteer at the Veterans’ Home in Oxford and for many years coordinated the American Legion Auxillary’s yearly poppy sale. Mary was also a member of Reach to Recovery and served as secretary of The Pantry. For the last 17 years, she was the “bingo lady,” calling bingo three times a week at Azalea Gardens/Elmcroft/Elison Assisted Living Center of Oxford. Following her husband’s death in 2010, she assembled her own staff of four-star generals—each having their specific responsibilities—including Priscilla and Ed Koen, everything; Peggy and Bernie Smith, outdoor Christmas decorations and the seasonal changing of all the curtains in the house; Rev. Gene Bramlett, curtain duty and computer assistance while he lived in Oxford; Joe Skinner, anything related to her phone and television; Clark Hunt, spray painter extraordinaire of patio furniture; and Camille Garrett, Amy Knox, and Matthew Knox at Bette’s Flowers, who kept her geese bedecked in seasonal ribbons. David and Susan Shaw of Sneed’s, now Shaw’s Hardware, and their staff installed new batteries in every flashlight and device she brought in. She is survived by daughter, Lauren Lexa of Franklin, Tn; niece Julie Stich, New Berlin, WI; niece Jan (Art) Frank, Las Vegas; niece Mary Beth (Tommy) Denzer, Kansas City, MO; nephew Dick Berger, Kansas City, MO; and niece Charlene Callicoat of Texas. She is also survived by cousins Connie Lane Newman, Chevy Chase, MD; Patrick (Pam) Lane of Australia; Page Sanger, Marietta, GA; Bob (Jolanta) Drake, West Bend, WI; Tom (Judy) Sanger, Chicago; and a host of great nieces and great nephews. Additionally she is survived by a son, Scott Lexa. Mary counted as family the staff at the Baptist Cancer Center, especially Dr. John Cantrell, and Fr. Joe Tonas of St. Richard’s Catholic Church (longtime priest at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church). She was preceded in death by her husband of nearly 50 years; her siblings Richard Berger, Tom (Betty) Berger; Dolores (Ralph) Stich, and Robert Berger; nieces Victoria Stich and Cheri (John) McEniry; nephew Dr. Thomas J. Berger; and her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Victor Berger. At a future date, a memorial mass will be said by Fr. Mark Shoffner at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Oxford, MS. Memorial contributions may be made to Baptist Cancer Center, ATTN: Daniel Lenard, Director, 504 Azalea Drive, Oxford, MS 38655. Please specify the gift be made to the Mary and Gerald Lexa Memorial. Coleman Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.