What I Learned From Maria Fernandes: One Person Can Make A Difference

March 23, 2012
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By Susana Markson


MARIA FERNANDES LOVED dirty jokes.  I realize that may seem a strange tribute to Sea Bright’s former mayor who recently passed away, but whatever.  As a bartender for 15 years, I know a ton of dirty jokes, and every time I’d get a new one I’d always call her up and tell it to her.  She had a great laugh and a wicked sense of humor.     It’s not very often that you can honestly say someone has changed your life.  Maria Fernandes changed mine.  I always wanted to be involved in my community, but was never quite sure how to go about doing it.  I’d go to town meetings sometimes and open my big mouth, but how much of a difference was I really making?  But she listened to me, and one day she invited me to come over to her house for a meeting to talk about running for town council in Sea Bright. I vividly remember getting this call.  I was on the field coaching lacrosse at a local high school.  The girls were finished and walking around the field gathering up the last of the loose balls.  I must have looked a little dazed when I hung up because a few asked me if I was OK.  I was more than OK.

It’s an amazing feeling when someone truly believes in you.  For most of us it probably doesn’t happen as often as we would like.  It’s like that old saying- we judge ourselves by what we think we can do.  Others judge us by what we have done.  Who really looks for the potential in others?  We’ve all got so much going on in our own lives.  Family, friends, jobs. Terrorism, war, the price of gas.  Kardashians and American Idols. But how great would it feel if a stranger called you and said, “I believe that you can make a difference, wanna try?”  (FYI…It feels awesome.) That night I nervously went over to Maria’s house to meet with her and some other council members to see if this was really something that I’d want to do.  And it so was.

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So I ran. And I lost. Later I was appointed to fill Maria’s council seat and had the privilege of serving for a year. Then I ran again.  And lost. (Whatever).  It’s a weird thing to run for office.  You have to talk about yourself and your views a lot, but it’s really more about listening.  And learning. And trying not to yell at people when they ask you really, really stupid questions.  The door-to-door thing is the hardest.

Knock, Knock!

“Hi!  My name is Susana Markson and I’m running for town council in Sea Bright!  I’m just coming door to door to ask about your concerns for the town and see what your views are on (insert something here)! “


But it’s the nature of the beast.  And I actually started to enjoy it.  I started meeting people that I never would have met.  I got different viewpoints on things I never would have thought of.  Maria also encouraged me to go to all the meetings so I could  learn the process of running a town.  I started volunteering at different functions.  I served on committees.  I was, and I still am, part of something bigger than myself.  And that’s awesome.

Maria had health issues as long as I knew her.  She never talked about them, but they were there.  I was worried when I started going door to door with her, worried that she wouldn’t be able to keep up.  What a joke.  She was the one always pushing me, “One more block!”  “C’mon five more houses!”  She was a freaking warrior.  And she understood me.  When I got into a fairly loud argument with a resident at one condo, instead of berating my idiocy in alienating a potential vote, she calmly made me see a better way I could have handled things.  Then she told me I’d do better next time.  And I did.

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It was a shock when she died.  It shouldn’t have been, but it really was.  She was just one of those people that I always thought would be around.  I keep finding myself wanting to call her to ask her opinion on this or that.  To get the unadulterated truth that she always gave.  I really miss that and it’s been less than a month.  But because of her I have a stronger voice than I had before.  I know my opinions matter and that one person can make a difference.  She taught me that and so much more.  And if she were here today I would tell her that and say thank you.  And then I would tell her my latest dirty joke.  I can hear her laughing now.


Susana Markson is a former Sea Bright Council member and the manager of Donovan’s Reef in Sea Bright.

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