The hidden poet: A devoted Catholic school mom

Having attended the Council of Catholic School Cooperative Clubs’ (CCSCC) annual Christmas luncheon for over two decades, I knew Marion Uzee as the sweet woman, who at the luncheon’s end, read a poem she had scribed to determine the winners of the tabletop decoration.

Known as the CCSCC “honorary poet” for 25 years, Uzee, who died July 24, was so much more.

She leaves a legacy as a loving mother of five children and grandmother to seven as well as an enthusiastic supporter of Catholic schools and causes.

“Faith was always in everything,” said her eldest son, Louis “Joe” Uzee Jr. “My mother and father sacrificed to send us to Catholic schools, and Mass was integral.”

He said his mother and father were daily communicants at St. Francis of Assisi Church on State Street, and he and his brother were altar boys. 

Uzee recalled his mother being smart – she was valedictorian at McMain High School. Her abilities were recognized by one of her high school teachers, who donated the money so Uzee could take the admissions test for Tulane University. She achieved membership in Beta Gamma Sigma national honor business fraternity and became an accountant and CPA, working for Volkart Bros. and Shell Oil Company. 

CPA to stay-at-home mom

In 1963, she married the love of her life, Louis Uzee. When children came, she chose to raise her family over work.

“Being a stay-at-home mom had an effect on our family,” Uzee said. “She was a mother before all things. Her career became us and the schools. We all graduated from college, and a lot of that was her.”

He remembered his family finding Catholic churches for Mass when on vacation and saying the rosary even when driving across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway.

“There were five of us, so each one had a decade of the rosary,” he said. “The rosary was important. My dad was a member of the Lady of Fatima Council of the Knights of Columbus, and he would bring home the Mary statue once a month. So, we were exposed to that as children.”

Uzee was treasurer of the Knights of Columbus Auxiliary, and Mothers’ Club president at St. Francis of Assisi, Mercy Academy and St. John Vianney Prep. She also was a minister of the holy Eucharist at Covenant House, a lector and a St. Louis medallion awardee from the Archdiocese of New Orleans for service. 

And, she was always associated with the CCSCC, which Joe called “her second family.”

How did she become poet?

Charlene Brinkman, past CCSCC president (1992-94) and current advisor, discovered that Uzee was legislative chairman in the 1984-85 school year. 

Brinkman said Uzee took over as poet from Claire Basterling, who “had gotten up in age and couldn’t come to luncheons anymore and would send her poems to be read.” 

After Basterling passed away, Brinkman recalled Miss Marion saying, “I would love to be your poet.” Brinkman answered, “I didn’t know you wrote poetry.” To that, Uzee said, “I do it on the side and would really love doing it.” 

She started right away.  “Not just for the luncheon, but for the Regina Matrum (Catholic Mother of the Year) and CCSCC meetings. And she just stayed on forever,” Brinkman said.

“When I came on board, she was one who stood out,” Brinkman said. “To me, she was just so friendly and had this dry sense of humor and was very welcoming to anybody. … She was so kind and loved to help out in any way she could.”

Brinkman also saw her deep faith.

She was “a prayerful, faithful person,” she said. “It showed. She had a big heart.”

Another CCSCC past president, Debbie Perrone (2000-02), recollected her being a character: “She made us laugh.”

Perrone recalled a past CCSCC luncheon – before cell phones – when all CCSCC board ladies wore hats. Perrone was on the phone with her husband watching Uzee outside of the hotel chasing her hat, due to a windy day. She said she went up to her and said, “Marion, I have been killing myself laughing watching you.” Uzee responded, “I was going to wear that hat” no matter what.

Perrone also regaled Uzee’s spontaneity, having the ability “to come up with something quickly.”

In her annual poem, “she would try to fit in all officers, the winner of the Club of the Year, the first names of the two luncheon chairmen, the archbishop and Father Bob (Massett, who for years was the spiritual director),” Perrone said. 

Perrone said her wit and intelligence sealed her job as poet. 

“A lot of people remember her as the lady with the poem,” Perrone said. “She was so sweet and kind and could make you laugh.”

Joe Uzee said his mother, who sometimes used her dry wit to ask probing questions of people, had a motive behind her inquisitiveness. 

“She always wanted the best” out of everyone, whether it was her children or friends.

“Everyone that she touched in life, she truly wanted to get them to heaven with her,” Uzee said. “She was always challenging them.” 

In honor of Uzee, the CCSCC will read one of her poems at its 2018 Christmas luncheon.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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