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Mary Lee Sutton-Oglesby, 82, a popular figure in W. Phila.

A farm girl from Georgia, she became a world traveler.

Mary Lee Sutton-Oglesby
Mary Lee Sutton-OglesbyRead more

JULY 25 was for years a big day on the block of Arch Street above 50th in West Philadelphia.

It was Mary Sutton-Oglesby's birthday, and the neighborhood was invited to share in the celebration.

"She would block off the street and would spend weeks preparing her signature Southern dishes for the party that would last all night long," her family said in a tribute.

Mary had a slogan: "If the food ran out, then it was not enough."

But it always was enough. In fact, leftovers were in the refrigerator afterward despite the fact that a couple hundred people would be fed through several shifts.

Mary Lee Sutton-Oglesby, a true daughter of the South who brought Southern recipes and Southern grace and charm with her when she moved North in 1958, a self-proclaimed "country girl" who became a world traveler, died Dec. 26. She was 82.

After she and her late husband, Oscar Phillip Oglesby, moved into their "dream home" on Arch Street in the late '70s, Mary became a beloved neighborhood fixture.

She would park herself in her favorite chair on her front porch and delight in stopping passers-by for conversation. Neighbors were equally delighted to converse with the woman whom they knew as "Mom" or "Big Mom."

And her home was always open to one and all.

"You knew once you walked on the porch or in the door you were going to get some true Southern hospitality from the 'Georgia Peach,' " her family said.

"She opened her doors to all and made everyone feel at home with her signature greetings like, 'Hey, Baby, I'm blessed by the best,' or, 'God don't put no more on you than you can bear.'

"And you never left her house without consuming a full meal - with some of her wisdom as dessert."

Mary Sutton grew up on a farm in Montezuma, Ga., with nine brothers and sisters - five boys and five girls. She was the second-oldest born to Jessie and Bessie Sutton.

However, she would say, "My mom had 13 children, and three passed away."

Mary helped her parents on the farm, helped raise the younger children and later went out to work as a cook to help support the family.

At 16 she married Dan Tookes, and they had two children. The marriage didn't last, and in 1953 she married Oscar Oglesby, of Marshallville, Ga.

After her mother died in 1958, the family moved to the famed "Black Bottom" neighborhood of West Philly, home to many black families that had migrated to the North to seek better opportunities and to escape Jim Crow racism.

Mary worked as a cook and housekeeper, all the time dreaming of having a big house to call her own. That dream was realized when she and her husband acquired the Arch Street home. By this time, she was the proud mother of eight children.

She became active in community affairs and was one of the founders of the Dunlap Community Center, at 51st and Arch.

"It was her hope that her neighborhood would be a place where her family and fellow neighborhood children would have a safe place to play, obtain jobs, and enjoy the family environment of the community," her family said.

This one-time farmer's daughter from Georgia became a world traveler, visiting France, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Turkey with her daughters.

She is survived by five daughters, Mary Jane, Marie, Delores, Mary Helen and Cynthia; a son, Leonard; two brothers, Jessie and James; four sisters, Gladys, Thelma, Camilla and Elsie Davis; 13 grandchildren; and 18 great-grandchildren. She was predeceased by another daughter, Patricia, and a son, Samuel.

Services: 11 a.m. Saturday at Camphor Memorial United Methodist Church, 5620 Wyalusing Ave. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be in Fernwood Cemetery.