Traveling the World with Mary Lathrop


By Blog Coordinator Meghan Randolph

It was a crisp fall afternoon when I pulled up to an apartment building on Madison’s west side, not knowing that once I stepped through the doors, I’d be traveling all over the world!

Mary Lathrop has been a SAIL Member for several years. She greeted me warmly at the door. (Her cat, Lovey, was more skeptical.) She instantly started to show me her treasures, saying she had always wanted to travel, and in recent years, she decided it was time to do it!

Lovey the cat would like me to state my business.

Mary has been, quite literally, all over the world. From Buddhist temples to Icelandic waterfalls, she’s embraced other people, cultures, and viewpoints with great enthusiasm. In fact, that has always been part of who she is.

“I taught for many years in the African American community in inner-city schools,” Mary tells me. As a high school chemistry teacher, Mary worked in Washington, D.C. for six years.  She then returned to Madison and earned a law degree at UW-Madison, practicing general civil law and working as a research attorney. For a year, she worked in family law on a Sioux Indian reservation in South Dakota. But her first love was teaching, and she returned to that career as a teacher in the Hispanic community in Houston, Texas.

Mary’s dreams of far-away travel began in 1975 when a group from her church visited South Africa. “I had always wanted to go, but it was too expensive at the time.” Her dreams finally came true, though, when she visited the fascinating country as one of her first excursions touring the world.

Mary finally makes her dream come true in South Africa!

“We learned about apartheid, and all of the history,” Mary says.  “I had wanted to go for over 40 years.”

Mary’s apartment is a museum of sorts. “I got to the point where I didn’t like standing to go to museums,” Mary notes, “so now I have my own museum, and I can just lay on the couch and look around!”

A stunning, hand-made art piece from India.

Among the multitude of art and photos she has picked up are a rug loomed from wool in India, a woodblock print of Mt. Fuji from Japan, original Aboriginal art from Australia, Icelandic birds preserved through taxidermy (including a puffin and a very domineering raven!), a white marble end table top depicting the Taj Mahal made of inlay gemstone and mother of pearl, and so much more. She also has an impressive collection of telephone wire art, a South African practice that takes forty hours to complete with taut wire. She acquired some of the art right here in Madison at Calabash on Monroe Street, and the rest online. The intricate weavings always feature the Zulu flower at the center. There are often more to them than meets the eye. One piece’s detailing includes whiskers on the small cats. Another flower also depicts South African huts.

Telephone wire art. Notice the flower in the middle, and the huts depicted in the petals.

Mary talks with enthusiasm about all she has learned and the people she has met. When asked what her favorite part of traveling is, she says it’s meeting new people. In a photo on her wall, Mary smiles broadly with a woman from Vietnam who had once been a Viet Cong fighter and been imprisoned. She shares an art piece that says “If you can dream it, you can do it!” with a group of Aboriginal girls. She stands next to an Icelandic shark hunter and his boat. “Sharks don’t excrete their food,” she explains. “So everything stays in their stomachs. So to sell shark meat, you have to ferment it for several months, or it will be inedible.”

The scenery she has witnessed is unforgettable, as well. A fishing village on Ha Long Bay, which features over 3000 islands. A floating market 100 miles from Bangkok, Thailand. Stunning Buddhist temples. A lovely shot of an elephant with his trunk up. (“That means good luck!” Mary notes.) Pictures show Mary eating gold leaf ice cream in Japan, standing near three elephants in Zimbabwe, and cuddling a koala bear.

Mary hanging out with elephants!

When she travels, Mary makes the initial journey alone, but meets with a tour group in each location and stays for two or two-and-a-half weeks. Mary is looking forward to trips to New Zealand, Ireland, and Norway coming up. Having previously been to Europe in the 1990’s, she wanted to journey farther away when she went back to traveling. “But I’ll be heading back to the European countries soon.”

One wall of adventures. (The other walls are covered too!)

It was pretty clear as I said goodbye that Mary is a perfect example of a person that has always believed she can do whatever she puts her mind to. Proudly, she holds her art piece that she shared with Aboriginal girls in Australia.  “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Mary says dreaming and doing is the SAIL way. She initially heard about SAIL from her minister and now utilizes SAIL’s Rise & Shine check-ins and volunteer handyman services. She also recently attended a Tech Tutoring session, where she was able to get help with her tablet.

A bird preserved through taxidermy

Thank you so much, Mary, for sharing your stories with me and all of our readers! Keep us updated on everything you’re doing!


Do you have an idea for the SAIL blog? Make sure to e-mail or! You can also call the SAIL office at 230-4321 to let us know! 


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