Mary McHughes (Ferrell) was born in Memphis, Tennessee on 26th October, 1922. She married Hubert Ferrell in 1940. Over the next few years the couple had four children.
In 1957 the family moved to Dallas, Texas and Mary Ferrell found work as a legal secretary. Ferrell took a keen interest in the assassination of John F. Kennedy and created a database on the subject. The information was placed on over 40,000 cards. This included details of over 8,200 people involved in the case. This data was eventually entered into a computer. Ferrell also created a four-volume set of chronologies, covering all aspects of the assassination.
Mary Ferrell died in Dallas on 20th February, 2004.
Mary Ferrell is busier these days than ever before. On November 22, 1963 Mary was a 41-year-old successful legal secretary in Dallas. Instinctively, she began collecting information and storing it in whatever form proved convenient at the time. She did not know then that she would become the most comprehensive clearinghouse of facts on the Kennedy assassination, a source so valuable that virtually no researcher working on any aspect of the assassination can ignore her work. At the ASK symposium, Mary Ferrell was accorded the role of "consultant," and was treated as perhaps the quietest celebrity since St. Francis.
"I've never given a speech in my life," she told me, and agreed to the interview on the grounds that we focus on her database of assassination information which she is only now readying for distribution in a comprehensive, electronic format.
In thirty years, Mary has collected information on over 40,000 3x5 cards focusing on names of individuals. She began the process of entering the data into a computer in 1986, when Bud Fensterwald sent Daniel Brandt to help her with the project, and continued with the help of then Drake student and now programmer for the city of Dallas, Trafton Bogert. She estimates that, when finished, the data base will consist of approximately 8,200 names -- with information on name(s), address (current and in 1963, if relevant), current phone number, her sources, and a variable field to provide the amazing bits of information she carries in her head and on her cards. During the symposium, someone asked if anyone knew about one dim figure, and she said, "I can tell you his shoe size." I asked her if such information could be found on her data base and she said, "if it's relevant."
Her information will be available sometime this coming summer, if things work out. In her role as consultant to PBS's "Frontline" program on Oswald, Mary was able to gain access to their work in updating her own files and has promised not to publish hers until a book by the program's principal investigators is published. And then, consistent with her work for 30 years, Mary will not ask a penny for the information above the cost of reproducing and sending it. She does not, however, judge others who make their living writing books about the assassination. In fact, Mary has nursed many writers along through their darkest periods as they prepared their material for publication. She is proud of the writers she has helped, and speaks of their upcoming work with almost a mother's pride. When I spoke with her shortly after the symposium, she was devastated by the news that a research colleague, Sue Robinson, had just died at the age of 49.
"I'll be 72 on my next birthday," she says, "and I have to do something with this information so that it is available to people." The release of the CIA documents is particularly exciting to her, and keeps her very busy. She doubts that the FBI files will contain anything of use.
"Am I optimistic that the truth will emerge in my lifetime? No. But I disagree with what Sylvia Meagher wrote 25 years ago when she said that new researchers wouldn't help. The new people will continue the work, and eventually we will know the truth."
Mary Elizabeth McHughes Ferrell died peacefully at her home in Dallas, Texas, on Friday evening, February 20, 2004 at age 81, surrounded by family and friends. Mary had struggled for years with her typically dogged determination against a variety of health problems, supported by her devoted and loving family and many friends. However, she never lost her interest in the world and the people around her. Her intelligence, wit and lively personality will be remembered by the many people who knew and loved her. Born in Memphis, Tennessee on October 26, 1922, she married Hubert Afton "Buck" Ferrell on June 18, 1940. Together, they had four children. Mary and Buck moved to Dallas with their family in 1957 where she worked more than thirty years as a legal secretary for a law firm and also in the Governor's office in Austin. Mary was a woman of rare ability who is regarded internationally as one of the most knowledgeable and respected historical researchers of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In 1963, she was working in downtown Dallas, when on November 22, John Kennedy was assassinated. Mary began a lifelong inquiry that brought her into contact with researchers, authors, law enforcement, the United States Congress, and people from all over the world. She developed and continually updated a database of the vast array of information which she had accumulated, with her last entries made in December of 2003. Mary also created a four-volume set of chronologies, covering all aspects of the assassination with annotations in extraordinary detail. Her archives, which gained worldwide attention, were donated in 2001 to the Mary Ferrell Foundation base in Boston, Massachusetts.