Mary Anne Haas is truly a sight to behold: nails painted bright green, pink streaks in her hair, rainbow-beaded earrings glinting in the sunlight, and a long, dangling necklace jingling as she moves. Her appearance does not deceive — Mary Anne is every bit as spirited and nontraditional as her neon hair or her jewelry collection.
A 19-year resident of Princeton, she loves the town and its people. Mary Anne currently works for International Schools Services, a Princeton-based organization that aids educators and schools around the world, where she organizes annual women’s symposiums focused on women’s roles in education and beyond. There are currently more than 300 female alumni of her 12 symposiums.
“I know everyone in town. I’m always walking around here,” she said. “I liked it from the beginning, but I’ve seen how it’s grown and the things that are happening.”
The Princeton community members find her a vital part of their everyday lives, spotting her around town nearly every day. Amanda Packer, store manager at Chez Alice Gourmet Café and Bakery, sees her nearly four or five times a week, she said. Mary Anne loves to stop in for a coffee and croissants.
“The way she lives her life, at 89 years old! I would love to be her at 89. If I have half of her personality and flair for life, I’ll be happy,” Packer said.
Though she’s pretty settled in Princeton now, Haas spent most of her life traveling the globe, working in education as well as working to create and maintain opportunities for women worldwide.
Mary Anne was born in 1926 to Russian-Jewish immigrants in Seattle, where she spent her childhood as the eldest of five children. After high school and a venture out to New York, Mary Anne went to live in a house with several other women.
She met her future husband, Stanley Haas, when he visited the house. He went on to earn his Ph.D. in education, and then the two settled in Palo Alto, Calif. and had a son and a daughter together. Stanley then took a sabbatical from his teaching position and they traveled Europe for 18 months. Six years later, Stanley was offered a headmaster position at the Overseas School of Rome but wouldn’t accept without Mary Anne’s agreement.
“I really didn’t feel like I wanted to leave Palo Alto, but I knew how much he wanted it and I thought, ‘I couldn’t do that to him,’ so I said yes and we went,” she said. “We were there eight years and I had a ball!”
While there, Mary Anne spent her time helping at the school and fulfilling her role as president of the American Women’s Club. Then, the family moved to Greece when a job opportunity at the American Community School of Athens opened up for Stanley, where they spent four years.
In a final international move, Stanley took a job with the Near East South Asia Council of Overseas Schools and Mary Anne worked alongside him. After her husband passed away in 1996, Mary Anne took over his position for a year, thinking it natural since she was so well acquainted with the duties.
“I knew everything that was going on. I had organized the conferences,” she said. “I thought it would help the grieving process. We really had a wonderful marriage.”
Finally, in 1996, 69-year-old Mary Anne was offered the job as executive assistant in the International Schools Services. Her first boss kept her busy traveling, which she loved.
“He sent me all over visiting international schools and wherever I went—” she said. “It was fabulous.”
Mary Anne came up with the idea of a women’s symposium through her experiences with women in international education, and the events have been incredibly successful. Past themes have included “Sculpt Your Future” and “Embracing Diversity,” that have brought together women from all different backgrounds to celebrate female leadership.
“This is going to be my 13th one, and it’s just been marvelous. I’ve had many different lives, but I must say that the 19 years that I’ve been here have been just magnificent,” Mary Anne said. “It’s really been a wonderful new life.”
Mary Anne continues to work hard and inspire others with her vivacity, and even receives mail from people she’s inspired throughout her life.
“I have gotten letters from so many people I knew who were heads of schools and stuff over the years. They keep in touch with me a great deal and just recently, I’ve had three or four letters from different people,” she said. “And I know that they don’t even realize that they all wrote the same thing. They said, ‘We want to be just like you when we grow up.’ And I wrote back, ‘The answer is never grow up.’”