Finding Our Voices volunteer named Maine Business Leader of the Year

Special to Seacoastonline

YORK, Maine — Mary Lou Smith, an 84-year-old survivor of domestic abuse, has been named a Top Business Leader of the Year by MaineBiz for her volunteer work with Finding Our Voices.

The retired first-grade teacher is one of 12 people being honored in 2024 for “their contributions to the economy, our state, and our daily lives,” according to the website of Mainebiz, a “leading source of Maine business news and analysis.” 

“It is time for all businesses in Maine to start talking about how domestic abuse impacts their staff as well as management,” said Patrisha McLean, CEO and founder of the grassroots survivor-powered group. "I am thrilled that Mainebiz and Mary Lou are leading the way on this."

Mary Lou Smith with Patrisha McLean, CEO and founder of Finding Our Voices, at one of the countless Finding Our Voices events the 84-year-old has driven to all across Maine since 2019.

Smith left her 43-year abusive marriage to a college professor in 2005. In 2019, she read about McLean’s traveling exhibit of photo portraits of Maine survivors and drove to an opening reception in Castine.

“The rest,” Smith said, “is history. Since that day I have been committed and dedicated to sharing my story with Finding Our Voices to help others leave their own hell on earth.”

Mary Lou Smith’s Finding Our Voices poster with her quote “It’s never too late to leave” is bringing light to domestic abuse all across Maine on downtown business windows as well as in public bathrooms. Mary Lou is one of 45 Maine survivors in this groundbreaking campaign.

Smith is one of 45 Maine domestic abuse survivors whose photo portraits and names are on the Finding Our Voices posters papering downtown business windows in more than 90 Maine towns as well as on bookmarks. Her quote in this campaign is “It’s never too late to leave.”

According to McLean, ways that Smith has brought hope to domestic abuse victims and education to the general public include survivor-led panel discussions from Eastport to York and walking up and down dozens of Main Streets to get the Finding Our Voices posters up. She also has had meaningful conversations along the way about domestic abuse, and "even getting her dentist on board our Finding Our Smiles statewide program of free dental care,” McLean said.

Smith told Mainebiz magazine that the Finding Our Voices community conversations “have given me the opportunity to share my story in person to give hope to those still living in abusive relationships. A woman told me that talking with me after one of these events prompted her to leave her abusive situation. I had tears in my eyes and joy in my soul.”

According to McLean, Smith helps facilitate the Finding Our Voices weekly online support group, as well as its online book club that looks at life through the lens of domestic abuse. Smith was a co-leader with McLean of many Finding Our Voices book discussions for incarcerated women at the prison in Windham.

Finding Our Voices is the grassroots, survivor-powered nonprofit breaking the silence of domestic abuse across Maine one community and conversation at a time, including with financial assistance to empower women to Get Out and Stay Out, and get their children safe as well. For more information, visit https://findingourvoices.net.