Biography of Mary Ferrell
The ASK Answer Lady, Mary Ferrell
by Jerry McCarthy
NameBase NewsLine, No. 4, January-March 1994:
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
"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."