Mary Jane Carter Fenner, volunteer and activist, dead at 80

Mary Jane Carter Fenner, an activist, one-time political candidate and New Orleans Carnival royalty, died Friday. She was 80.

Long a staple of the society pages with her husband, Darwin C. Fenner, she chaired more than a dozen boards, from WYES-TV to the Salvation Army, in a career of volunteerism that spanned three decades.

She graduated from Isidore Newman School and attended Newcomb College.

Fenner served as president of the Orleans Club on St. Charles Avenue and started a reading tutorial program at St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church, where she was an active member.

She headed an organization called Drugs off the Street and once sent a curt note to Criminal Sheriff Charles Foti for failing to meet with the group. “We are,” she wrote, “disappointed that your busy schedule has not allowed you to meet with us on the subject of jail overcrowding.”

In 1994, Fenner pursued her first and only political campaign, pouring a few hundred thousand dollars into a run for the District A seat on the New Orleans City Council. Fenner, a Democrat, made it into the runoff but then lost to Suzanne Haik Terrell, a Republican.

“She could make a terrific campaign speech,” said Flora French, Fenner’s sister-in-law.

French described Fenner as a perfectionist, meticulous in the way she dressed and put on luncheons for the Mystic Club, which crowned her as its queen in 1986. (Fenner’s father-in-law, Darwin S. Fenner, served as head of the Rex organization.)

French could not recall her sister-in-law devoting much time to leisure or hobbies. She mentioned trying to get a bridge game together a few times, but it never came off, French said, adding, “She wanted to make the city a better place.”

Survivors include her husband; two daughters, Mary Jane Ingram and Joanne Sullivan; two grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.

Services were private.