here are not words to describe how I felt when I got out of bed this morning and heard the news that my beloved friend, inspiration, and ‘Earth Mom,’ Mary Wilson had passed. It’s still impossible to believe that my favorite ball of fire isn’t a phone call away.
I met Mary over a decade ago at a charity event for Black female figure skaters. We started talking about the challenges I experienced as a young, Black, skater, living far from home in “all white places,” when I grew up. We ended up talking for hours. Something magic happened, and we both knew that we were going on life’s journey shoulder to shoulder, as friends, sisters, and most important, we would be an eternal support for each other.
To be perfectly honest, this story is a little therapeutic. The heartache that accompanies grief – it’s depth and spontaneity – brings an aimlessness with it. Writing can pull us out from time to time. I long for Mary to be in this world right now so that I can tell her how much I love her, although I believe she knows in a way that I can’t comprehend.
I’ve spent much of the day looking at old pictures, (please forgive low res iPhone shots), talking to common friends, and my favorite, looking at old texts. You can imagine my surprise when I came across these old notes from an interview I did with Mary. I think the irony will speak for itself.
A Conversation Long Ago
“When I begin my interview with legendary singer and original member of The Supremes Mary Wilson, I began by asking her a question that the great financial advisor George Kinder asks his clients before he helps them create a financial plan. “If you found out you were going to leave the planet tomorrow what would be your biggest regret?”
Kinder asks his clients this in order to help them identify their most important values, so that they can lay the foundation for a financial blueprint that is in line with their values.
Wilson’s answer made it clear that relationships, particularly hers with her former bandmates were front and center. “If I was leaving tomorrow, I would make things right with Diana,” referring to Supremes lead singer Diana Ross.
Wilson and Ross had a falling out after the release of Wilson’s book Dreamgirl: My Life As A Supreme, in 1986.
In addition, Wilson says she deeply regrets that she didn’t have the knowledge to help the other member of the original Supremes Florence Ballard, who lost her battle with alcohol and depression in 1976.
Wilson’s experiences of wealth and loss have also changed her perspective on what it means to have a healthy relationship with money, as she shared with me in our discussion.
Tisdale: What has all that you’ve been through, with the Supremes and before, taught you about money?
Wilson: Money does not define who you are, but often one finds that out too late. I was always happy until I found out that my mom, IV Pippins, and my dad, John L. Pippins, We’re not my mom and dad. I never asked why my name was Mary Wilson and not Pippins. I was a very happy child who always had lots of pretty little cute dresses, and bows in my hair, and I wore white patent leather shoes…. Because I always had everything I could possibly want, even my own bedroom, it never occurred to me that we were possibly poor, or that we were even black.
Money was never an issue, that is until I turn 10, and had to be moved to the Brewster projects to live with my biological mother, Johnnie Mae, and siblings, Catherine and Roosevelt.
Johnnie Mae was a domestic worker, who gave up her first child, me, until she could get back on her feet. Now with 3 children, she had to seek help from the government, welfare. Despite it all, I learned to love my new family, and love my new home in the Detroit projects. Money to this day has never defined who I am inside.
Tisdale: Going from difficult financial circumstances to great wealth proves challenging for a lot of people. What was your experience?
Wilson: I have learned that having money can make life easier, but if you don’t invest or save for that rainy day, it can be devastating. I’ve also learned the dangers of believing that rainy day will never come.
After graduating high school, my thinking was that if I got a hit record it would secure my future. At the age of 20, we got our first million-selling record. My future was secured, and after five consecutive number one records, I was convinced.
I was making so much money, and thought I was doing the right thing by hiring accountants, managers, pr firms, etc. The spending, however, was too much. I always, thought, however, that I would catch up but I was never ahead.
Tisdale: How has that played out?
Wilson: After many years of this cycle, the Depression hit. Work in the corporate shows I had been doing dried up. Also, fighting some bad lawsuits, where people were chasing the name of the Supremes, and fake groups took the savings I had. I also loaned money to others that I never got back. I realized that this was the rainy day people talked about. Now, after 60 years I find myself having to work, and think about all the money I threw away. All I can say for myself is that I should have listened to them and they said save for that rainy day. However, thank God I love what I do and still have a voice. Mom was right, a better education would have certainly helped. So yes, money can make life easier, as I have had a great life, had I saved, however, it would be even better now.
You Get Everything You Need
In the days before my Father passed about a year and a half ago, he told me something I will never forget. “Love as many people as you can, with all that you can, and you will get everything that you need,” as you did Ms.Wilson.
If I found out today was my last day on the planet, my only regret would be not figuring that out sooner. Thank You my beautiful friend for giving us everything. You truly reign Supreme. Eternally Yours….”Touch”