Cortez Native and community Icon Dr. Mary Fulford Green, age 96, reached her goal to reunite with family and friends in Heaven on Thursday June 9, 2022.
She was born in Cortez in 1925 in the Billy Fulford house, the gold-colored house at the end of 123rd street across from Star Fish Restaurant. Her grandfather, Captain Billy Fulford was the first settler in Cortez in 1883 and his beautiful original house is still standing at the corner of 123rd street and 4th Ave. Capt. Billy’s second house, where Mary was born, was built in 1907, closer to the water so he could sit on the front porch and see his fishing boats.
She was the oldest of 7 children born to Walton “Tink” and Edith Wilson Fulford and had 41 first cousins in the area so for most of her life anyone who lived in Cortez was a relative. Tink Fulford was recognized as the most successful fisherman of his generation. Mary lived in her parent’s waterfront home that was built in 1926, for the last 20 years.
She graduated from Bradenton High School in 1942 as the Valedictorian, went to Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Science. She returned to Tallahassee in 1960 with her family, after her husband retired from the US Air Force and obtained both a Master’s degree and later a Doctorate in Education from FSU.
When she moved back to Manatee County in 1974, she started trying to preserve the Cortez fishing village and had a remarkable string of successes.
Mary knew how to lean in, long before it became popular for women to do so. In 1985 after the local government had given approval for a boat manufacturer to construct a large marina at the entrance to Cortez, she led a successful campaign to overturn the approval and stopped the multimillion-dollar project. The marina would have blocked the channel making it impossible for fishing boats to get in and out of Cortez.
In the 1980s she and her cousin Sue Turner, were vocal and visible opponents to the marijuana smuggling that had taken over much of Coastal Florida. Even after threats from the smugglers they were not afraid to speak out in public meetings with legislators, organize protests on the streets or appear on the local TV news to force local law enforcement to stop the drug smuggling in Manatee County.
She helped form the Cortez Village Historical Society in 1985, served as Treasurer and edited the CVHS newsletter for over 35 years.
She was one of the driving forces to create The Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH) in 1991 and purchase the FISH preserve, over 100 acres on Sarasota Bay. The preserve is set aside forever to protect and enhance the habitat and spawning area for fish, birds and all kinds of marine life.
In 1992 she led the opposition to the Florida DOT’s proposal to build a high-rise bridge from Cortez to the beach which would have covered up several of the streets in Cortez. She was successful then and was actively working to stop new plans for a high-rise bridge in Cortez up until the last weeks of her life.
In 1995 she wrote the application and was successful in having Cortez put on the National Register of Historic Places. This included identifying and providing historic data on 95 structures in the village.
She lobbied Manatee County in 1999 to purchase the former 1912 Cortez School building which today is the Florida Maritime Museum. She helped raise funds to renovate the museum building in 2005 and in recent years to move a historic cottage from Bradenton Beach to create the Cortez Cultural Center on the FISH preserve.
She was a fixture not only at the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival but at County Fairs and other events selling Cortez books and strawberry short cake for CVHS.
Her contributions to Manatee County didn’t stop at the Cortez city sign. She helped create the Career Counseling program at Manatee Community College, now State College of Florida in 1974.
She was one of the founders of Hope Family Services in 1979 and served as the first Director of the spouse abuse refuge house.
Mary was also a licensed mental health counselor and served on the Board and as a full-time volunteer of the Manatee Mental Health Association for many years.
She volunteered with the Manatee County Drug Court, at the Manatee County jail and several Florida prisons to mentor and counsel incarcerated women, helping them rehabilitate their lives, teaching them the Bible and helping them find employment after release. She spoke at several national Prison Ministry conferences on the work in Manatee County.
Mary would always say her most important work was for the church. She was a member of the Cortez Church of Christ and invited everyone she met to join her on Sunday. It was not unusual to see someone she just met that week sitting next to her on the pew.
She taught bible classes by mail for World Bible School for over 20 years and taught a weekly ladies Bible Class at the Cortez Trailer Park but had to give it up when she could no longer drive.
Mary was predeceased by her parents; her husband of 52 years Benjamin Clyde Green; brother; Ralph Fulford; and sister; Belinda Porterfield.
She is survived by daughters; Cathy (Tom) Ryon of Locust Grove, VA; Carol Kio Green (Jim Kio) of Tallahassee, FL; sons; Ben Green, Tallahassee, FL, Mark (Mary) Green of Cordova, TN; thirteen grandchildren and twenty one great grandchildren; Sisters; Irene Taylor of Cortez, Ann Dean Riddick of Searcy, AR; brothers; Wayne (Betty) Fulford of Stanley, NC and Gary Fulford of Bradenton; and many nieces and nephews.
Services will be at Brown & Sons Funeral Home 5624 – 26th Street West Bradenton, FL 34207. Visitation is Friday June 17, 2022 from 5-7 pm and the funeral will be Saturday June 18, 2022 at 11 am. Burial will be at Palma Sola Cemetery in Bradenton.
In lieu of flowers the family suggests memorials to World Christian Broadcasting 605 Bradley Court Franklin, TN 37067 or Cortez Village Historical Society P.O. BOX 663 Cortez, FL 34215.
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