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Mary Ognibene, ex-Falls reporter, News freelancer

Updated: 01/14/08 6:54 AM


May 1, 1926 — Jan. 12, 2008

Mary Ognibene of Grand Island, a retired reporter and columnist for the Niagara Gazette, died Saturday in Niagara Hospice, Lockport, after a long illness. She was 81.

Born Mary Ellen Cook in Buffalo, she grew up in Black Rock, graduated from Nardin Academy and attended Buffalo State College.

As a widow with four young sons, she went to work in 1962 as a correspondent for the Gazette after the unexpected death of her first husband, Frank H. “Jerry” Heyden. She quickly gained a full-time reporting job and later became a weekly columnist.

Known for penning a witty column, Mrs. Ognibene took on everything from housework and cooking to politicians and the foibles of family and friends. After retiring from the Gazette in 1982, she did freelance writing for The Buffalo News.

She and her husband, retired photojournalist Joseph Ognibene, whose outdoors column, Outdoor Scene, published by the Niagara Newspaper Group, marked its 50th year in 2007, collaborated on many assignments.

One of their most celebrated was a trip in the early 1970s to Alaska in a camper nicknamed “The Affordable” that he built onto a small pickup. Their adventures were chronicled in the Gazette. They camped and fished throughout the United States and Canada. One of Mrs. Ognibene’s favorite spots was Cape Hatteras, N.C.

In 1975, after she panned the July 13 performance of Elvis Presley in the Niagara Falls Convention Center, the Gazette received hundreds of irate letters to the editor, and scores of people picketed the newspaper. But such was Mrs. Ognibene’s popularity among readers that the following year, in a Gazette poll, they chose her to review Presley’s return engagement.

An avid naturalist, she grew plants that attracted and fed wildlife, including birds, butterflies, deer and wild turkeys that frequented her yard. Through the years, she also had cats and dogs as pets. When their ginger tomcat, Tuffy, was caught in a trap near their home, she and her husband successfully lobbied the state to enact legislation — named Tuffy’s Law, for their cat, who survived — restricting hunters from trapping close to houses. An accomplished craftswoman, she crocheted, knitted and quilted, giving her one-of-a-kind creations to family, friends and charitable organizations, including the SPCA of Erie County, which received dozens of quilted cat mats.

Among her other interests were antiques and collectibles, gardening, reading — especially murder mysteries — and the New York Yankees.

In addition to her husband of 35 years, she is survived by four sons, Michael, Patrick, Timothy and Matthew Heyden; a stepson, Randy Ognibene; and a stepdaughter, Roxanne True.