Mercedes is Spanish for mercies, which Mercedes Bean dispensed in abundance her whole life long. She acquired several nicknames over the years. She was Meche’ to her contemporaries, “Ma Bean” to her children and grandchildren, “The Little Señora” to her students.
She was born Dec. 4, 1921, in Manati, Puerto Rico, to Luci Ruiz and Carlos Ossorio. She died Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019 – eight days after her 98th birthday – and spent most of the years between those dates caring for others.
After college, the sisters took jobs teaching school in the town of Fajardo, and in the evenings young people – including a sizeable contingent of soldiers and sailors stationed there – would mingle and flirt on the town plaza. Before long, Mercedes caught the eye of a soldier from Tennessee whose job it was to install telecommunication lines up and down the Caribbean. It was love at first sight for Albert Bean, who boldly introduced himself and made a point of showing up in places where she was likely to be. He wrote home and told his folks he’d met the most beautiful girl in the world.
She was shy; he was persistent. It wasn’t long before he came calling at the Gonzalez family home.
Mercedes and Albert were married in July 1944. When the war ended, he brought her home to Fountain City where she learned to adapt to cold winters, a second language and a big, raucous family.
She spent her first 20 years in Knoxville raising her family, working in her gardens, becoming an active member of First Methodist Church and ferrying her children to music lessons and sports activities.
When the kids were a little older, she enrolled in the University of Tennessee, earned a master’s degree and went to work for Knox County Schools. She spent the bulk of her career at Carter High School where she taught Spanish and American government. After her son John died in 1984, she took up doll collecting and became a recognized expert in that field. After she retired, she and Albert spent many weekends at her booth in regional doll shows. She also worked part-time as a translator in the Knox County court system.
She saw her family through good times and bad, and at all times was their rock.
She and Albert were married for 67 years and had seven children. She was his caregiver during his last illness, and he died in 2011. She missed him so dearly that not even Alzheimer’s disease could erase his memory. As long as she could speak, the question came:
“Have you seen Bert?”
She spent the last year of her life in the Memory Care Unit at Oakwood Senior Living. When her children sorted out her personal papers and correspondence, they found that their notoriously thrifty mother had supported a staggering number of charities and causes.
Albert, her parents, her sister Manola Russell, her sons John Ralph Bean, Albert W. Bean Jr. and Gary Michael Bean, grandson John Wesley Bean, son-in-law Joe Sbuttoni Jr. and her mother and father-in-law Marion and Ralph Bean preceded her in death. She is survived by daughters Betty and Jeanette, son David and daughter-in-law Bettye and son Richard, as well as by grandchildren Rachael Schafer and husband Tim, Joe Sbuttoni III, Misha Lowenstein, Kevin and Luci Bean, great-grandchildren Alex Lowenstein, JoeJoe Sbuttoni and Lili Bean Schafer, and caregiver Dianne Hamrick.
The family wishes to thank the caregivers at Oakwood Senior Living for their loving care.
Receiving of friends will be at Stevens Mortuary, 5-7 p.m. Thursday Dec. 19, chapel service at 1 p.m. Friday, Dec. 20, at Stevens, the Rev. Mike Lee officiating. Marcus Shirley and Nancy Brennan Strange will provide music. Family and friends will meet at Woodlawn Cemetery at 2:30 p.m. Friday.