After more than six decades of caring for unwanted and abandoned cats, 91-year-old Mary B. Clover is officially retired.

For 65 years, Mary has been feeding and spaying-neutering homeless cats in feral colonies in every state she has lived in, from Iowa and Minnesota to South Carolina. For the past 25 years, the cats right here in Bluffton and Hilton Head have been lucky enough to have Mary looking out for them.

Mary often had to fight off crows, buzzards and raccoons so her cats could eat. She also has run into a few humans who felt less than hospitable toward her cats as well.

It all started for Mary when her children were off to school. She took a job with her local animal shelter, feeding, cleaning and caring for the unwanted cats. That is when she began noticing homeless cats everywhere in her community.

She started with food and moved on to providing shelter from rain and cold and medical care when needed. She never turned a cat away.

This role came naturally to Mary, who has been a lover of all animals from the time she was a small child. “I get my love of animals from my grandparents,” stated Mary at our retirement lunch. “I’ve loved cats, dogs, ducks, and all wildlife. I even had a pet duck that I raised from a tiny little thing.” I could see the sparkle in her eyes as she thought about the many animals she has loved.

Mary was definitely ahead of her time, working at the forefront of the pet population problem. She started Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) before it was available in our community in an early attempt to curb the overpopulation of cats.

Over the years, as rescue groups and shelters came into existence, she began arranging for the kittens of feral cats to be socialized and adopted.

Realizing that she needed a succession plan upon her retirement, Mary reached out to PAL a few years ago and asked for her cats to be cared for. I drove from cat colony to cat colony with Mary as she “trained” me on how to care for them. “Put the food here, mix the food like this, pet this one here, this one will eat out of the car,” she would tell me.

She knew each cat intimately. It was amazing to watch her dedication and see the love on her face.

Mary’s last feeding station was turned over in July and she is officially retired.

Now PAL volunteer Harry Cassidy has taken hold of the proverbial feeding spoon and has built a team of caregivers to pick up where Mary left off.

Mary now has the peace of mind she was looking for. She no longer needs to get up every day and care for the colonies because a team of dedicated volunteers is following in her footsteps. They too love the cats and find great joy and satisfaction in knowing they are a part of something worthwhile. They carry on the good works of one woman who, wholeheartedly, demonstrated a lifetime of compassionate care.

Amy Campanini is the president of Palmetto Animal League. www.palmetto