Over Mother’s Day weekend 2023, family members of Mary Frances Gilbert will cherish special memories of a mother, cookbook author and culinary genius. Mary passed away on Sept. 2, 2022, at Harmony at Reynolds Mountain in Asheville, N.C., after months of declining health.
Mary was born on April 3, 1940, to Burwell and Mary Frances McDermon Humphrey in Atlanta, where she enjoyed an active social life, family gatherings, swimming and playing the piano. In 1958, Mary graduated from DeKalb County’s Druid Hills High School, not far from her idyllic, historic neighborhood. Later, as a homemaker in a vibrant Midwestern university town, Mary discovered her gastronomic talents, and the gourmet cook authored a series of widely selling cookbooks under the name Mary Crownover. Coverage of Cheesecake Extraordinaire, I Love Cheesecake and Filo Fantastic generated headlines in the food pages of major publications in North America. Articles prominently showcased Mary’s culinary exuberance, focusing on the array of exotic flavorings, decadent liqueurs and rich ingredients in her lavish desserts.
While living in Missouri in the 1990s, Mary displayed her food artistry during regular cooking segments on KOMU’s Pepper & Friends. Over the years, Mary invented 70-plus specialty recipes for the NBC affiliate, which, in turn, plugged Crownover’s Creations to viewers. For Toastmaster Inc., Mary was a major contributor to The Corner Bakery: Bread & Dessert Maker Cookbook, and she closely collaborated on the dessert cycle for the Breadman appliance. In addition, Mary developed recipes for a stand mixer and helped test new products. In Columbia, Mary taught adult-ed classes on cheesecake, appeared at the King’s Daughters Holiday Festival, and gave talks for radio shows and women’s groups. Beyond Columbia, Mary made publicity visits on behalf of the Rolling Pin, a Southern eatery chain that featured her recipes. In addition, she appeared in cooking demonstrations on QVC and participated in far-flung book signings.
After raising her family in Central Missouri, Mary retired to Punta Gorda, Fla., where she was known for her Southern hospitality, charm and vivacious style. In coastal Southwest Florida, she was active in Beta Sigma Phi, an international women’s friendship sorority; Daughters of the American Revolution, including a stint as her chapter’s custodian of the flag; and genealogy organizations. During much of the 35 years she lived in the Midwest, Mary volunteered for the American Red Cross at the University of Missouri’s hospital system or worked in several units. From 1996 to 1998, Mary served on the board of directors for Rainbow House, a child advocacy center and shelter in Columbia. As a young mom, Mary acted as Cub Scout den mother, taught Sunday School and participated in school activities. Throughout her life, Mary enjoyed creative endeavors, especially crafting and sewing. In 2015, Mary relocated to scenic Western North Carolina to be closer to family. Mary especially relished time with grandchildren.
Mary was predeceased by her husband, Jack Pittard Gilbert, son-in-law, Stephen Elvy, and sister, Jeanne Reece. She was survived by sons Richard Crownover of Tennessee and Hal (Caroline) Crownover of North Carolina; daughter Catherine Elvy of New Jersey; grandchildren Callie Crownover, Beckett Crownover, Christian Elvy, and Andrew Elvy; step-children Carol Gilbert Laskowski and Gary Gilbert; other relatives; and many special friends, including Nancy Gay, who was like a daughter.
An interment service took place in November at a cemetery overlooking Atlanta’s skyline, a fitting nod to Mary’s fondness for her beloved hometown and Coca-Cola beverages. In another befitting gesture, Mary’s children and grandchildren will honor memories of their Mom Extraordinaire on Mother’s Day 2023.
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