She was pioneer in children's television

Published July 31, 2007

LARGO - Scenes from Treasure Chest, a children's television program that ran from 1949 to 1953 in Baltimore, could have made the popular blooper reels - except that back then, all the broadcast was done live.

There was the Reddi-wip can that exploded during a commercial. And the lamb that urinated on the set.

Mary Stewart Hammond, who conceived and pitched the show during television's infancy, handled it all with aplomb. Her guests included school choirs and local singers like Daniel Comegys, a high school teen.

The show was canceled, and years later, a network manager told her why: Comegys and many of the choral singers were black.

"She imparted in me a love for music and treated me with such respect before I even knew what that was," said Comegys, 69, a baritone now winding down a long career with the Vienna Volks Opera in Austria.

Hammond died Tuesday at age 89. Before moving to Largo, she and her husband, the Rev. Kirk Hammond, lived in Belleair Bluffs for 33 years.

A dry cleaner's daughter, Mary Stewart started working at age 12. As a senior at Harrisonburg State Teachers College, she eloped with Hammond. She sang hymns to her children on car trips, but kept order with a cherry tree switch on the dashboard. She chafed at the role of minister's wife but filled Bibles with underlined passages and notes in the margins.

"My mother was very good at re-potting herself," said her daughter, Mary Stewart Hammond, a New York poet. "When one pot didn't work or she would get knocked down for whatever reason, she would just repot herself and remake herself as something else."

In the 1960s, Mrs. Hammond worked with literacy pioneer Frank Laubach to found Atlanta's Literacy Action Inc. and then went national.

There were low points, too. Doctors removed a breast and her ovaries at age 32 after cancer. And a 22-year-old son, Dallas, died in a scuba diving accident. But she always gathered her strength for the next phase.

Mary Stewart, the daughter, observed this about her mother in an excerpt from her poem, Heaven:

She believes in the Resurrection of the body.

So far, she can raise herself two inches.

Yesterday, while trying, she said she was ready

for her new body. My father claims she meant

she was ready to die. I claim she was making

a joke...

Andrew Meacham can be reached at 661-2431 or ameacham@sptimes.com


Mary Stewart Hammond

Born: Jan. 12, 1918.

Died: July 24.

Survivors: Husband Kirk Hammond; daughter Mary Stewart Hammond of New York and her husband, Arthur Allen; sons William of Largo Sandy and David of Elliston, Va. (Patty); sisters Carrie Ann Nelson and Patricia Steward D'Angelo, both of Roanoke, Va.; three granddaughters, two grandsons, three great-grandchildren, four nieces and two nephews.

Service: 3 p.m. Aug. 5, Peace Memorial Presbyterian Church, 110 S Fort Harrison Ave., Clearwater. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation or Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.