by Monica Herms


On January 30th, 1944 (although the date – not the year – was often debated), Mary Luz Tenorio Nunez entered this world. We like to think that she probably made a lot of noise when she arrived, because being on stage was a place she liked to be.


She was born in Cartago, Colombia, where she lived for a few years with her many brothers and sisters, along with her Egyptian mother and Spanish father. Her love of rivers, mountains, and plants developed here, and also her love of animals, with a soft spot for chickens. (She had a favorite named “Timbre” - that’s “Doorbell” for you non-Spanish speakers – whom she talked about all her life. Timbre was even spared the fate of most chickens so the kids could keep her as a proper pet.)


The family later relocated to Cali, where Mary attended Catholic school and constantly challenged the priests and nuns, much to the dismay of her mother. She channeled that energy into dance, and became a professional ballet dancer for 5 years. She was a member of the “Ballet Grandcolombiano,” which performed folkloric dances from 5 different Latin-American countries. She did some singing too, performing solos in mass at the family church.


In 1966, Mary met a shy American named Henry. He was in Cali doing work with the Peace Corps, and she thought he was okay. He was really skinny and had a crooked smile. He was introduced to her by another volunteer who knew her sister. He used to follow Mary around a lot, so eventually she decided to go out with him. It turned out he was an extremely good guy, and she fell in love. They married in 1968, on a day considered bad luck, in a rainstorm, after her taxi was stranded in floodwaters and she arrived 2 hours late to the church. Apparently, the priest figured Mary’s wedding would be interesting…


And then she was whisked off to California.


Now Mary Herms (although back home she was Mary Luz Tenorio Nunez de Herms), had to forge a new life, learn a new language, and deal with new (and sometimes prejudicial) people in her new home of Encinitas, California. She did so with conviction, and never let anyone tell her she couldn’t succeed. Then she had to learn a new role entirely – mother. In July of 1969, Monica came along and forced Henry and Mary to be parents (but really, they wanted to do it anyway… well, maybe not the cooking part).

Family Portrait 1 

Sandra arrived in 1971, and Gooby in 1975. Mary was now a mother of 3, but that didn’t slow her down. In 1974, she was a founding member of the House of Colombia, an organization that brought an awareness of the people, culture and food of Colombia to the residents of San Diego. She was the choreographer for groups performing traditional South American dances at the House of Pacific Relations from 1975 until about 1981… when she became immersed in what we like to call her “Jazzercise Period.”


Mary became a fitness instructor, teaching for about 10 years and even opening her own exercise studio. She went to college to study physical fitness and worked in the tutoring center helping college students with their Spanish. She was encouraged to teach Spanish at the college level, so she finally got her degree in Spanish (with a minor in Italian for good measure) from SDSU. She studied Pablo Neruda, Manuel Puig, Isabel Allende, Jorge Luis Borges, Juan Carlos Onetti,  Gabriel Garcia Marquez. So why not get her Masters degree as well? Mary then became an adjunct professor of Spanish at SDSU, Cal State San Marcos, Palomar, Mesa, and Mira Costa colleges.


She continued to travel as well. She was fortunate enough to attend the University of Florence in Italy for a summer, and while there, she had gelato for breakfast every day just because she could. Henry and Mary went camping, visited their kids in the Bay Area while exploring the California coast, and took trips to the east coast to visit Mary’s relocated family. They wandered Mexico City and saw the pyramids,  and crawled over old lava foundations in Hawaii. They traveled all throughout Spain, visiting the birthplace of Mary’s father and the Catedral-Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, a special place for her.


Spain was always a magnet for her, having first visited during the Barcelona Summer Olympics in 1992. She felt very at home there, and with her friends in the House of Spain. She was a member of the organization for about 11 years, serving on the board of directors and being a part of the construction of their new building. She participated in many events with them: the Cabrillo Festival (role playing Spanish sailors and yummy food!), December Nights (pounds of delicious paella!), and the Food Fair being highlights.


Mary was diagnosed with advanced multiple myeloma in January of 2007. She spent a lot of time in the hospital battling this cancer, which gave her at least another year to watch fish jump out of the water at San Elijo Lagoon, see more great movies, party with her friends and play with the newest members of our extended family. Henry, Monica, Sandra & Gooby spent a lot of time watching telenovelas with her, as well as the occasional Fellini film.


On the morning of  Thursday, February 21st, 2008, Mary decided to finally relax and join her late father and brother. She passed away at home, surrounded by her loving husband, daughters and son, as well as the family cats. We will remember her by staying strong, staying silly, staying curious, and using our intellect for the good of others as well as ourselves, with a big beautiful smile – just as she did.