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Neighborhood Steel Magnolia Passes

Picture of older lady with glasses and gray hair, wearing a black mock neck sweater and a gold necklace.
Photo courtesy of the Banks Family. Mary Frances Tolar Banks

By Henry Bryant

Mary Frances Tolar Banks passed away peacefully on January 25. There was a Celebration of Life program for her on February 11 at Clairemont Place in Decatur, where she had moved to from Hemlock Circle in North Ormewood Park, a SAND neighborhood. That area was once considered part of East Atlanta, but was officially made a part of SAND when the Neighborhood Planning Unit (NPU) boundaries were established in the 1970s.

Mary Frances was born on March 1, 1932 at Grady Hospital, but her roots go deep in East Atlanta. The Spanish Colonial Revival style house on Hemlock Circle was designed by her grandmother, Melba McWilliams Tolar. Mary Frances and her husband Herbert Tolar were leading members of the community. As a child she attended Gordon Elementary on Metropolitan Avenue and graduated from Roosevelt High School on the hill above the current campus of Maynard Jackson High School. She married Eddie Banks and they lived first in an apartment on Confederate, now United Avenue, before moving to the Decatur area. The family always spent a lot of time over the years with the Tolars at the house on Hemlock, however.

Mary Frances’ career initially was her family, and she kept very busy with all the typical activities involving her son David and daughter Kathleen. But in 1972 she decided to go back to school for training at DeKalb Tech (now Georgia Piedmont Technical College) and a certificate qualifying her as a Medical Office Assistant. She was hired and continued working in doctors’ offices for years. That’s when her daughter and son-in-law needed an office manager in their business, the Decatur School of Ballet. She was adept at handling all sorts of situations with young ballerinas and their parents. She was loved by all and worked there until she retired.

Mary Frances inherited the house on Hemlock Circle when her mother died in 2011, and she moved back to the Porch Press area (NPU-W) and the family home. She renovated the house and became very involved with Historic Sylvester Cemetery Association, helping to lead fundraising events, clean-ups, and eventually becoming its president. Much of Mary Frances’ family rests in the cemetery in East Atlanta, one of the oldest in DeKalb County. During this time she also helped with the photo-history book East Atlanta, Images of America since she had so many early photos of the area to share as well as stories to tell.

Mary Frances Banks was a strong but gentle woman of charm and wit. She was the type to roll up her sleeves when there was a job to be done. She worked hard to insure the future of Historic Sylvester Cemetery, and it will become the final resting spot for this woman with the sweet smile, a true Steel Magnolia. Her ashes will be scattered there along with those of her husband Edwin. She leaves behind a large family and a legacy in the Porch Press community.

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