Dedicated Friends Board Member Inspires Great Conversations in Annapolis

April 18, 2024 | By Kirstin Fawcett

Mary Wolf, a former reporter/producer with NBC Nightly News who once booked interviews for anchor Tom Brokaw, understands just how powerful a good conversation can be. So, when a friend asked the Annapolis resident if she would like to join the Board of Directors of the Friends of St. John’s College—a group of longtime locals who promote engagement between the school and the city through volunteerism—she knew her industry experience would bring something unique to the table.

Journalist Bob Woodward and Maryland Governor Wes Moore (Meliha Anthony, A24)

“One of the privileges I’ve had is that I’ve been exposed to a lot of interesting people,” Wolf says. “I thought, well, if I could bring some of these people to St. John’s, they could talk about their lives and experiences.”

Wolf was already familiar with the Program through her husband, John Holland (A66). She sensed that the college’s discussion-based curriculum would make it a natural fit for an event series she had conceived featuring notable speakers interviewing each other in front of an audience. Her intuition was right: Wolf’s semi-annual “Great Conversations” have brought illustrious figures to campus ranging from Brokaw and Admiral Mike Mullen, the former United States Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Cal Ripken Jr. and Chris Wallace. Her latest onstage pairing this past fall consisted of legendary Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward and Maryland Governor Wes Moore; tickets sold out before the event, with all proceeds from sales and a related book signing benefiting the St. John’s Scholarship Fund.

Wolf worked in media for years, and was based in New York and Washington, D.C., when she wasn’t traveling the world on assignment. But after 20 years working in network news, she realized her true calling lay beyond the broadcast cameras. “I’d had a great run at NBC News,” she reflects, “but I wanted to do public service.” She left and began working at soup kitchen Martha’s Table in Washington, D.C., where she launched a free computer center supported by grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Comcast, and Microsoft. Wolf later moved to Annapolis, where she founded the city’s Clay Street Computer Lab, a similar youth education center aimed at bridging the digital divide.

Prior to COVID-19, Wolf had been preparing to launch a nonprofit that provided fresh produce to underserved families in Annapolis. Then, a valued neighborhood partner passed away from the virus. Instead of putting their plans on pause, she dedicated the project to his memory and hit the ground running, “going door to door and giving each family a box of fruit and vegetables that would serve a family of four for a week or two,” she says. She continued handing out free food well into the pandemic, aware that her support was now, more than ever, needed by others.

The world at large wasn’t so resilient, and pandemic shutdowns forced all “Great Conversation” events into hiatus until October 2023, when Woodward and Moore drew crowds of Annapolis residents, midshipmen, and Johnnies to a newly renovated Mellon Hall. Woodward, a personal friend of Wolf’s, and Moore were both “very, very excited about coming to St. John’s and sitting on the stage and talking to each other,” says Wolf, explaining that the two shared a natural synergy due to having both served in the military—Woodward, in the navy, Moore in the army—and Moore’s late father having had worked as a broadcast journalist. Her overarching goal, as the two bantered about Moore’s efforts as governor, Woodward’s time at the Post, and the state of the world at large, was for attendees to feel as if they were sitting in their own living rooms, “just listening to two people talk to each other,” she says—albeit two very significant ones.

Wolf hopes to give back to St. John’s in the same manner she has always given back to Annapolis, raising funds for students who couldn’t otherwise afford tuition while boosting the school’s profile by “bringing people to the college and helping to expose its very unique mission as a liberal arts college,” she says. She knows its value firsthand through husband Holland, who, thanks in part to his alma mater, is a voracious reader and “so curious and so inquisitive about the world,” she says. Now, she wants everyone else to experience the magic of a St. John’s education—one inspirational exchange at a time in Mellon Hall.

Watch the Bob Woodward and Wes Moore Great Conversation.

Learn more about past Great Conversations.