In the early morning hours of June 12, 2018, Mary Jean Backman Alley, heart and hub of our large Alley universe, died at the Bountiful family home where she had lived for 70 years. Her daughter, Diana, was at her side.
She was born April 3, 1924 into the active, loving family of Edith Mary Price and LeGrand P. Backman, the second of their five children. Mom adored her brothers, Bob, Dick, and Jim and her sister, Bev, and nourished rich, loving relationships with each of them throughout their lives.
Travel and learning was an early and consistent part of Backman family life. As a little girl, Mary Jean traveled with her parents and siblings to California, to Glacier and Teton National Parks and to the Chicago World’s Fair. But the seminal experience of her young life was living and attending school for four years in Capetown, South Africa where her father was LDS mission president. She was ten when they sailed by ocean liner to the Cape and fourteen when they returned by boat and train through Africa and parts of Europe on the verge of war, across the Atlantic by ocean liner and, finally, from New York to Salt Lake by car. It may well have been this experience that created her life-long curiosity about different cultures and love for all people, like or different.
Mom finished her education in Salt Lake City at Roosevelt Junior High and East High. Her favorite class was a cappella choir, which developed in her a love of music. She felt it was largely because of this class that she was accepted into the Mormon Tabernacle Choir immediately after graduating high school. She enjoyed the spirituality and grandeur of the choir while attending classes at the University of Utah. It was there, in English class, that she met a handsome returned missionary named John R. Alley, “Jack” to everyone who knew him. During walks in Liberty Park and up the hill from choir practice to Princeton Avenue; at church and Delta Kappa Gamma dances; and on trips to Jack’s home in Bancroft, Idaho, they fell in love. It was wartime, and Jack had enlisted. He took leave in February of 1944, and they were married in the Salt Lake Temple.
Mom was a war bride and followed her Jack to the East, living near or with him until he was accepted into officer candidate school. She returned to Salt Lake to have her first child, Peggy. She moved into the basement apartment of her parents’ house where Jack joined her at the end of the war, and where they lived for two years while he finished his education at the University of Utah.
Shortly after the birth of their second daughter, Susan, they moved into a little house on Orchard Drive in Bountiful. Mom lived there for 70y years, together with Dad until his death in 2007, and with her daughter, Diana, for another 11. That much-loved and much-lived-in home has been the center of the Alley universe for all those years. Kids, grandkids, great grandkids, friends, relatives, and neighbors felt drawn to it, knocking on the door, settling into one of the large sofas for a visit with Mary Jean or wandering into the large, leafy backyard for a stroll.
Mom resumed classes at University of Utah after the birth of their third child, John. For the next twelve years, she took classes when she could, as she cared for the children she had and gave birth to four more. In 1962, Jack and all seven of her children were present as she received a bachelor’s degree in education. For the next twenty-four years she taught hundreds of lucky third-graders at Valley View and Jenny P. Stewart Elementary Schools.
Throughout her life Mom enjoyed an unwavering and deep faith in her beloved religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It sustained her year to year, day to day and minute to minute. Over the years, she held positions in the Primary, Young Women and Relief Society auxiliaries, and fulfilled two service missions, giving her all to each one. Additionally, she maintained life-long membership in the American Association of University Women and Daughters of Utah Pioneers.
Mom loved to sing. She sang a beautiful alto at church, sang love songs while doing dishes, sang ditties to her children and grandchildren, sang hymns to herself sometimes a cappella, sometimes playing along on the piano. She knew every Mother Goose nursery rhyme and recited them often. Somehow, within the busy rhythm of her days, she found time to read. There was always a book or magazine near her chair. She made a beautiful, unique quilt for each of her 21 grandchildren and sent an annual birthday card and Christmas gift to each of them and their children until her death. For years she baked her own bread, and she was a gardener and preserver of fruit extraordinaire, stocking basement shelves with colorful jars of every size. She went camping with her kids, traveled the world with Jack and others. It was only recently that she stopped hosting huge Sunday dinners, always pulling up a chair or card table for the one or six unexpected guests who showed up.
She cherished her family, and because we felt her deep love, we watched her and learned. We learned how compassion works, that there is value in each person’s story, that life offers infinite joys, that the natural world offers peace and beauty, that travel opens our minds and hearts. We will miss her so, but if we paid attention, we will have learned how to carry her always in our hearts.
She was preceded in death by her beloved husband, her parents and her brother Richard Backman and in-laws Virginia Backman, Gloria Backman, Bob Davis, Phyllis and Bill Spathelf, George and Virginia Alley, Steve and Maurine Alley, and Bob and Margaret Alley. She is survived by her children: Mary Margaret “Peggy” Alley (Thomas W. Smith), Susan (Michael) Ehlers, John R. Alley Jr. (Kathleen Kingsbury), Diana Alley, George L. (Debra) Alley, Jeffrey B. (Ann) Alley, Thomas G. (Valerie) Alley; 21 grandchildren, 46 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandson. She is also survived by her brothers Robert (Janet) Backman, James (Lynn) Backman, sister Beverly Davis and her sister-in-law Laura E. “Peggy” Alley. She also leaves behind many beloved nieces and nephews.
Funeral services will be held at the Bountiful LDS 39th Ward meetinghouse located at 1500 S. 600 East, Bountiful, on Thursday, June 21 at 11 a.m., preceded by a viewing from 9:45 to 10:45 a.m. A viewing will also be held on Wednesday, June 20 at 6 to 8 p.m. at Russon Mortuary located at 295 North Main Street, Bountiful. Online guest book at www.russonmortuary.com.