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In Sunapee, a family and a community mourn a vibrant life cut short

  • Mary Moynihan had started a career in finance and planned to move to Boston in the spring. family photograph

  • Mary Moynihan, second from left, with her family, from left, Sean Moynihan, sister Erin, brother Sean and mother, Amy Moynihan. Family photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/5/2022 9:05:56 AM
Modified: 12/5/2022 9:05:44 AM

SUNAPEE — On Friday morning Maisi Cowdrey was standing in front of a wooden cross planted at a turn-off on Route 11 a few miles outside the village center of Sunapee, the low autumn sun casting forward her shadow to nearly touch the marker.

Laying a bouquet of flowers at the cross, which had a carved red heart with a white hand print attached at the join, Cowdrey grieved silently over the death of her friend, whose promising life had ended feet away from the spot where Cowdrey stood.

The white cross, which bore no name, hallowed the bend in the road where Mary Moynihan’s vehicle collided with a tree that had been knocked down by strong winds and fell across the road, killing her instantly, authorities have said. She was driving from work to her home a few minutes farther ahead to Ryder Corner Road in Sunapee.

“They train you how to do your job, train the right way to do it and not the wrong way,” reflected Cowdrey.

Moynihan was a year behind Cowdrey at Sunapee Middle/High School.

Now Cowdrey is an EMT with the Sunapee Fire Department and was on the emergency team called to the vehicle crash on Wednesday. “But nothing can prepare you when it’s someone you know.”

Even though they didn’t hang in the same circle of friends, Cowdrey said that Mary Moynihan — who graduated in May from University of New Hampshire and whose father, Sean Moynihan, is principal of Sunapee Middle/High School — unfailingly made the effort each morning before classes to seek her out so they could “have a small conversation to ask each other how we were doing.”

Cowdrey recalled Moynihan as “selfless, caring, kind, sweet … arguably the sweetest person I’ve ever met.”

In fact, Moynihan, 22, never seemed to be without a smile on her face, which reflected a glowing positive spirit that couldn’t help but be felt by the people around her, family members and friends said.

Growing up in Sunapee, where the family moved when she was 4 years old — her mother, Amy Moynihan, is a pediatric nurse at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center — Mary played on the school’s soccer and track teams, managed the girl’s basketball team and filled her vacations working as a nanny for families and as a manager at both Stacy’s Smoothies and the Sunapee Farmers Market.

“She was a busy girl,” said her father, Sean Moynihan. “She led a full life.”

Mary, said her mother, Amy Moynihan, had an innate nurturing personality that made her prematurely wise.

“We always called her since she was very little ‘Mother Mary’ because she mothered everybody. Her little brother, her little brother’s friends,” said Amy Moynihan — pausing a beat before adding in a slip of laughter — “her mom, her dad.”

“She took care of people.” she said.

Typical would be Moynihan’s reaction to the time her father was coaching a youth basketball team and — as coaches are prone — yelled at one of the players whom “she thought of as a little brother,” Amy Moynihan said.

Later that day, when her father walked through front door, Moynihan was waiting for him, he said.

“I came home. Mary had her arms crossed and was looking at me and gave me a scolding: ‘How dare you yell at Harper. He’s so nice. Why did you yell at him?’ She let me have it, so I was not allowed to yell at Harper any longer,” a chastened Sean Moynihan recalled.

Along with a maturity and wisdom that belied her years, Moynihan had a work ethic that impressed her employer so much that she was entrusted with responsibilities usually reserved for adults.

Deb Pasculano, owner of Stacy’s Smoothies across from the harbor in Sunapee, hired Mary when she was 15-years old as the first non-family-member employed at the smoothie and light lunch bar. Moynihan learned every aspect of the business, from making smoothies to hiring staff and keeping the books. Pasculano eventually made her the manager-in-charge — even to the point of having Moynihan the only person other than Pasculano herself with authority to access the business’s bank account.

“She is so calm under pressure, when all kinds of stuff going on at the smoothie bar and it would be crazy, Mary was just cool, calm and collected. I would have people write notes to me saying how great she was at handling a situation,” Pasculano said.

Then, when Pasculano organized the launch of a farmers market in Sunapee a few years ago, Moynihan was the natural choice to become the marketing manager, Pasculano said.

“She was always on time, always upbeat,” Pasculano said. “I loved her like a daughter.”

Indeed, punctuality was a big deal for Moynihan, family members said.

“Her largest pet peeve in life is when people were late,” said her sister, Erin Moynihan, 21, a senior at Fairfield University in Connecticut.

Mary’s devotion to her 19-year old brother, Sean, a sophomore at University of Notre Dame in Indiana, was profound, her parents said.

She insisted on accompanying him and their parents when they drove him to college for his freshman year,

When they arrived at the campus in South Bend, Moynihan got busy hanging up Sean’s clothes in the closet, fitted out his bed “and even made his roommate’s bed because his mom wasn’t there,” Amy Moynihan said.

Moynihan bought her brother season tickets to the Notre Dame football team games and paid for a monthly GrubHub account so he would be sure to have meals delivered to him room if he got hungry.

And, although she was only a college student herself, she did it with her own money, her father said.

Even when taking a full load of business and health management classes at UNH, Mary would work 30 hours a week as a nanny to earn money. That enabled her to take three “big trips” that past year, her father said, a senior trip with friends to Aruba, a trip to Hawaii with her long-time boyfriend, Justin Claus, and accompanying the family for whom she worked as a nanny to St. Bart’s.

“We didn’t pay a penny for those trips, it was all paid for by her hard work,” said her father.

Kerri Claus, mother of Justin Claus, now a senior studying bioengineering at UNH, said that Moynihan instantly became part of the family when her son and Mary began dating five years ago in high school.

“Little did we know how much personality and character was packed into that tiny package,” Kerri Claus said via email.

Moynihan “made herself right at home from the first day she marched in our front door. Elf-sized shoes blocking the front door, pizza nights, countless conversations and debates, a broken nose, annual matching Christmas PJ’s photos, family trips to Maine, Canada, and Hawaii only begin to scratch the surface of the lifetime of memories that she made with us in those five short years,” Claus said.

Initially thinking about going into nursing like her mom, Moynihan became interested in studying business at UNH and she quickly demonstrated a knack for it, especially in finance, even managing her own stock portfolio in consultation with her uncle, an executive at an asset management firm in Connecticut, her mother said.

Moynihan’s interest in finance led to a post-college job at Fidelity Investments in Merrimack, the first step on her way to taking licensing exams to become a certified financial adviser. Mary had been living at home and commuting to work to save money in order that she and Justin could get an apartment together near Boston when he graduates in the spring.

“They weren’t formally engaged but they were planning to get married,” her father said.

The steady stream of packages that has been arriving at the Moynihans’ home that Mary had been ordering online for the apartment she and Justin intended to share was in keeping with her plan-ahead nature, Amy Moynihan said.

“She’s a planner,” Mary’s mother said. “She’s so much of a planner that she would get annoyed with us every year at Christmas.”

That’s because, her mother explained, Moynihan was passionate about sending and receiving Christmas cards — and her family did not always comport with her exacting standard in the proper way to celebrate the holidays.

“Mary loves to receive Christmas cards from all of her friends and my friends. And she was worried that if we didn’t send out a Christmas card, we wouldn’t get one back. So for the last few years, she’s the one who does our Christmas cards. So our Christmas cards are all labeled and ready to go,” Amy Moynihan said.

“And now all we have to do is drop them in the mail,” her mother continued, struggling to get out the words.

It was while driving south on Route 11 home on Wednesday evening, during a period of unusually severe wind that Mary’s 2022 Toyota Rav4 collided with a tree that had either just fallen across the road or fell on her vehicle as she approached Trow Hill Road, according to police.

Maisi Cowdrey, the Sunapee EMT, said the fire department’s dispatch center was receiving an unusually high volume of calls that evening as wind gusts of up to 60 mph were recorded in some part of New England and tens of thousands of homes were still without electricity on Thursday morning due to downed lines.

“We had calls everywhere” said Cowdrey. “Trees, wires, car alarms going off, at least one call from every town we serve.”

The happenstance of Mary’s vehicle approaching the spot on Route 11 where a tree either had just fallen or was falling left her family, friends and community in agony over understanding the sometimes inexplicable cruelty of time, place and nature.

“If she was 15 seconds further ahead on the road she’d be alive today,” Pasculano said, her voice cracking at the thought.

John Lippman can be reached at or 603-727-3219.

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