Mary Paolini Fischer

Mary Paolini Fischer Fund
Sigrid and Guy Gibson

Small in Size, Large in Life

“Though she be but little, she is fierce.” These words written by William Shakespeare perfectly describe Mary Paolini Fischer. Throughout her life, Mary was always small in size, but big in heart. Standing at barely 5’ tall, her small size never stopped her from doing big things. One of the most important decisions she made in her life was entrusting Placer Community Foundation to carry out her legacy by establishing the Mary Paolini Fischer Fund, a decision influenced by her long-term determination to continually do more.   

As a child, Mary was petite and often ill, but overcame all her ailments, including surviving whooping cough as an infant. She was one of 10 children growing up on a rural farm in Connecticut and her charismatic personality made her stand out from the rest of her siblings.

“She was very outgoing and very gutsy,” recalled her sister, Christine Ohlinger. “As a toddler, she would go next door and visit all the neighbors. There was an elderly couple and they would ask her to sing a song, and after she sang, she got to take a fist full of change out of a jar.” Mary always gave her best performance and returned home happy with change in hand. Her gutsy personality shined again at age 5 when Mary decided one day she wasn’t going to kindergarten. The school was located in the city and Mary began the long journey home on foot. She was picked up by a police officer who drove her to the family farm, but her plans to skip school were subsequently foiled by her mother who promptly drove her right back.  

Years later, the family moved to Maine and Mary acquired her first horse, which led to a lifelong passion for horses. She was a natural at horseback riding and soon joined 4-H and competed in children’s competitions and rodeos. At one rodeo in particular, Mary took first place in a goat tying competition, in which children riding horseback had to catch the goat that was running rampant. Rather than receive a trophy, however, the prize was the goat itself. The goat lived with the family for years, but to their displeasure, ate all their garden vegetables.  

When Mary was in high school, the family decided to settle down in California and she moved across country to join them after graduating. There, determined Mary decided she was going to become a firefighter. By far one of the smallest applying to the California Conservation Corps, Mary went through the ropes and hauled 60-lb. training bags with the rest of them. Her sister Christine joked the bags were the size of Mary, but Mary prevailed and became a firefighter. “She worked with all the hot shots—the big brawny guys,” recalled Christine, who noted her sister stood her ground and became a well-respected firefighter.

Mary loved being a firefighter and later dabbled in banking and retail as well, but ultimately found much enjoyment through her volunteer work. She became involved with Operation MOM in an effort to send care packages overseas to military men and women. Mary was behind the fundraising to make this possible and also found another way to enhance the program. With the help of Christine, who was principal of a local elementary school at the time, they rallied the children to write letters to the servicemen and women, which were included in the care packages. On one occasion, Mary was even able to inspire the children to part with some of their Halloween candy to include in the packages.

Outside of Operation MOM, Mary was passionate about helping animals and everyday people. She volunteered at a large cat rescue operation in Auburn and also rescued injured horses with a friend.

“She was just very compassionate,” said Christine. “It kind of went along with wanting to know everyone’s stories. Didn’t matter who they were or where they came from…she would know all about them and their family and kids’ names. She was like that her entire life. She was so cute and charming.”

One example of Mary’s charm was showcased on a simple run to Starbucks for coffee. While in line at the drive thru with Christine, the barista remarked that she liked Mary’s scarf. Mary responded by gifting it to the barista. On another occasion, Christine mentioned to Mary that she liked her shoes and later that same week, she received her own pair in the mail.

“It was just her personality,” said Christine. “She was always that way. I think it was part of her interest in life. People, humanity, and animals.”

Sadly, Mary’s life was cut short after a courageous battle with cancer. Before she passed, she made provisions in her trust to establish the Mary Paolini Fischer Fund at Placer Community Foundation. The fund ensures her goodwill and love of animals will live on forever. Today, Mary’s fund has helped support the health and well-being of hundreds of animals in the community and has saved the lives of countless orphaned kittens.

“She loved people and animals,” said Christine. “And I think she would be so, so happy to know she did something so good.”


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P.O. Box 9207
Auburn, California 65604

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