Mary Bennett Obituary (2022) – Austin, TX
Mary Beth Southerland Bennett, was welcomed by her parents William (Billy) L. and Madelaine M. Southerland on May 7, 1940 in Sulfur Springs, Texas, and by her doting paternal grandmother Mary Southerland. The four have thrived in a three-generation home equipped with a large library. Two doors down lived Camilla Thomas Hartman, a playmate since she was two. Families spent the summer together at beloved Lake Elberta. A core of special lifelong friends that formed in the small East Texas town remained close, and Mary Beth often returned to Lake Elberta, sharing its beauty and peace with others.
Growing up in the 1940s and 50s was idyllic for a creative, fun-loving, yet serious student who pursued varied interests throughout his life. Short and athletic, she was a high school cheerleader and yearbook editor. As a trumpeter in the Sulfur Springs Wildcat High School band, his love of jazz blossomed into a deep love of classical music. Perhaps following Popular Mechanics as a teenager led her to choose electrical engineering at the University of Texas; she was one of the few women on campus who practiced slide rules. Socially, she was a proud member and past president of Delta Zeta sorority and remained close to her beloved sisters and other college friends over the years.
At UT, she met Baylus Earls Bennett, an engineering student, athlete, who became her husband in June 1962 and beloved partner for 53 years until his death in 2015. Mary Beth earned BS and MS degrees in electrical engineering at UT, the first woman to do this. The couple shared significant professional accomplishments, travels, outdoor adventures, books, music and conversations. Family was their priority with the births of sons Geoffrey (1966-2008) and Chad. She and Baylus adored their Bastrop cabin in the woods until it burned down in the most destructive wildfire in Texas history in 2011. They adored their dogs and Mary Beth’s Pablo, a parrot African grey. They held season tickets to many UT sports team events and were vigorous fans of “Go’ Horns” – particularly the Lady Longhorns.
His forty-year professional career was spent primarily at UT’s Defense Research Laboratories and its successor, Applied Research Laboratories (ARL: UT) on UT’s Pickle Campus. In the early 1970s, she pursued a master’s degree in electrical engineering under the supervision of Professor David Blackstock and was given an onerous problem: a leading acoustics at another university said that an acoustic parametric network worked well. in the water, but not in the air – Mary Beth proved otherwise! His published work went unnoticed for years until it was rediscovered; today it is the basis of the thriving industry of acoustic projectors. She traveled extensively: becoming a P3 qualified crew member while pursuing naval research in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
She developed a love of Korean cuisine in her experiences there. She conducted ground sensor tests at Roving Sands, Chicken Little and 29 Palms. In 2001, ARL:UT presented Mary Beth with its highest honor, the Jeffress Award for technical achievement, and she was a key member of the laboratory staff until her declining health forced her to retire in 2003.
Mary Beth was more than a scientist. As a humanist, she loved art, literature, film and music, actively supporting the Austin Symphony and the Austin Lyric Opera and serving on the board of the Austin Chamber Music Association. As a sports fan, she played, refereed, coached and helped organize summer football academies at St. Stephens School in Austin, encouraging her sons and hundreds of others to play her favorite sport. As a nature and nature lover, she hiked the Davis Mountains, hiked Lost Maples and Enchanted Rock Parks, was a certified scuba diver, and explored Africa and Antarctica. Lasting friendships were made and deepened in all of these areas: Sulfur Springs and Lake Elberta, ARL:UT and fellow scientists, the 1st Monday Delta Zeta Group, the 2nd Tuesday Draft House Gals, and the STOB (aptly named) backpacker group. by Mary Beth as the “stubborn, tough, ole broads”) – to name a few. As a close friend put it, “she could skin a squirrel for stew, but loved concerts and computers.”
Mary Beth peacefully left this life on December 28, 2021, in her favorite New Mexico home, surrounded by her family. She is survived by her beloved son Chad and his wife Cathy, as well as her grandchildren Chase, Cadyn and Cai; and by Geoffrey’s widow, Jennifer Bennett, and granddaughter Ruth Lynelle (Ruthie).
Appreciation is due to his loyal aide and carer of sixteen, Noemi Arce. Cousins, countless friends and valued colleagues will miss Mary Beth, still in awe of her interesting life and determined spirit, especially after the decrease in physical activity. She embodied Renaissance Woman in her love of exploration, science and the arts.
Posted by Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home North – Austin on March 19, 2022.