Westmont Magazine A Fascination with France
French Professor Mary Collier Supports the Arts and the Work of Westmont
Mary Collier’s parents brought their work home, to the delight of their three daughters. Mr. Collier produced operas for the Santa Barbara Civic Opera Company, and his wife starred in them. The musicians practiced at the Collier home on the Riviera, where the specially designed living room provided the requisite space and acoustics. Mary and her sisters danced and sang in the chorus, made cherry blossoms for “Madame Butterfly” and learned every note of every score.
Thanks to this early exposure, Mary has lived a life steeped in the arts. Part of the appeal of the French language — which she has taught at Westmont for 25 years — is its association with the arts. “French is the repository of a remarkable culture and history that have fascinated people of all nations generation after generation,” she says. “Their influence on all the arts is legendary — and also on theology, math and science. Indeed, as the language of diplomacy, French has made an impact on the world.”
Mary is an active participant in the Santa Barbara arts community. As a member of the Westmont Art Council, she helps support the exhibits in Reynolds Gallery. She is a continuing member of the founding board of the John E. Profant Foundation for the Arts, which provides funding for Santa Barbarans of all ages involved in the arts. Every summer, she teaches French diction to voice students at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara.
Her parents left her another legacy: support for independent schools. “They were very mindful of remembering the independent schools they attended with a gift every year,” she said. “This ritual was part of our formation, and we learned to show appreciation for the schools that shaped us. Independent schools need special attention because they do special work.”
Although Mary didn’t attend Westmont, she supports it annually and has made a provision for the college in her will. “I believe it is essential for faculty to show solidarity with the mission of the college,” she explains. “It’s one thing to sign a contract and the statement of faith. But faithful financial giving shows that you stand behind what you are doing and that you believe in the school and your personal mission there. It’s evidence that you are called to do the work you are uniquely qualified to do and that you believe in it heart, mind, soul — and wallet.
“The key thing I learned from my parents is that no matter how modest the gift, if it is given faithfully, steadfastly and wholeheartedly, it makes a difference. Even a little bit is a real contribution.”
Mary earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees in French at UC Santa Barbara. She completed her doctorate at the Sorbonne in Paris. Her scholarly work focuses on the opera “Carmen,” a fitting area of expertise. She belongs to the French Network of Santa Barbara and meets with fellow Francophiles.
Every year, Mary renews her love for all things French when she travels to Paris. For 35 years, she has been a part-time resident of the storied city. She is a member of St. Michael’s Church and has formed a community of French friends. “Living in Paris helps me keep current in the language and culture,” she says. “It is a very important part of my life.”
She is writing a memoir based on 30 years of letters home from France. The stories she shares, such as her study of French, her class in the espalier of fruit trees and the ancient apartments she has occupied, reflect the beauty and the delight she experienced — and continues to share with her students.