Living Life on the Edge

By Lee Allen
Inside Tucson Business – November 09, 2007

From dives of danger to flights of fright, Mary Levy Peachin is no shrinking violet. “I like to live each day to the fullest – right to the limit,” says the self-proclaimed adrenalin junkie and president of Peachin & Peachin: Leaders in World Adventure.

That’s not just a big jump, but a quantum leap from her former life as a retail sales clerk at the family Levy’s department store to being an adoption case worker, a travel consultant, and ultimately, ownership of her own art company (three galleries actually with eight employees).

On paper, it looks like a dichotomy. In reality, it’s a trichotomy attesting to the many sides of Mary Peachin.

“Many people don’t know of the three sides of my persona,” she says. “I also have a strong civic side where I want to help better the community.”

Her resume is a lengthy lineup of service from helping establish Angel Charities, Arizona Cancer Center, Ronald McDonald House, and the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau to board membership in United Way of Greater Tucson, Tucson Museum of Art – ad infinitum.

Along the way her collection of wall plaques grew with Woman of the Year honors from the City of Tucson, multiple awards from United Way, a distinguished alumni award from the University of Arizona, and a Governor’s Award from the State of Arizona.

Still and all, the native-born Tucsonan would rather talk about her most recent escapades being chased by grizzly bears, sharks, and crocodiles, or sky diving and bungee jumping. “There’s usually something beyond the beauty of the nature experience itself that gets my heart pumping.”

A graduate of Tucson High School , then Tulane University for her undergraduate work and UA for a master’s degree in Public Administration, Peachin is a certified commercial/instrument pilot, an award-winning adventure/travel writer and photographer, and a seeker of her next adventure anywhere in the world.

“Everything I’ve done in my life has sort of fallen in my lap, or at least been serendipitous,” she acknowledges.

Mary began work at age 14, as a stock girl for Levy’s department store downtown and remembers the Tucson of old.

“In the late 1950s, my dad, Leon Levy (who lead the store’s relocation to El Con and brought Steinfeld’s department store along to the new shopping center), didn’t see a bright future for independent retailers and sold the business,” Peachin recalls. “People still remember what personalized service used to be like. If customers were regulars, my dad knew what styles they liked and what size they wore. You don’t find that kind of personalization in the big box stores of today that offer super prices, but little in the way of service.”

Peachin grew up when Tucson’s population was about 40,000 and when Country Club Road was the east end of the city limits. What would eventually become Tanque Verde Road “was the end of the world, totally surrounded by pristine desert. I used to horseback ride in what is now El Con and eventually ended up cruising Speedway Boulevard and hanging out at Johnnie’s Drive-in.”

After raising two children and making her mark in the retail world, she began to look for different kinds of adventure and initially followed that muse into shark-infested waters off the coast of California.

“I’d just gotten back from a dive with sharks when I ran into the editor of Phoenix magazine who asked me to write about the experience. I wasn’t a journalist or a photographer, but that was the beginning of my writing career,” she remembers.

Words and pictures depicting exciting adventures are now her vocation as well as avocation. “I’d been pleasure diving for awhile and thought it would be neat to view sharks, up-close and personal. Since those first forays, I’ve spent a lot of time swimming with sharks and eventually writing “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Sharks,” which focuses on sharks in general without too much mention of face-to-face encounters. The revised edition (being retitled Sleek as a Savage) will include my personal adventures. I’ve just finished a book on diving in the Caribbean and, in collaboration with the editor-in-chief of Sportfishing magazine, am starting a book on fishing the Caribbean.”

With no false modesty and an equal lack of understatement, she owns up to the fact that she’s been scared on a number of animal encounters in the wilderness.
“There has to be something beyond simple curiosity that encourages me to put myself into situations that are frightening and fraught with danger,” Peachin says. “I have a healthy respect for nature and live by the mantra that I’m in someone else’s environment and understand I’m the intruder into their world.”

Asked to provide details on her most harrowing experience, she’s reluctant to pick one.

“I’ve been in and out of the water real fast when I found myself in the company of salt water crocodiles in an underwater cave in the Solomon Islands. I’d been told to expect small crocs, but not the six-foot-long ones that were headed in our direction,” she said.

Water currents in the Galapagos Islands were so strong they literally chewed holes in her gloves as she kept getting battered back and forth on coral reefs while waiting for a whale shark migration. She ultimately found a summer migration of the whales of the Yucatan Peninsula where she surrounded herself by the giants along with an entourage of massive manta rays and her standard swimming companions, sharks.

“One of the most recent encounters in Alaska scared me to death. We’d flown into a location to fish for salmon and my husband and the others had gone upstream to look for trout when I heard them in the distance yelling about a grizzly bear headed in my direction. Although we’d been told not to run if we saw a bear, fright and flight took over and I beat feet in the direction of the float plane. From my vantage point on the plane’s pontoon, I couldn’t see if the bear was still hanging around so I spent the rest of my day alone, still angling while hanging onto the aircraft.”

As to future adventures, Peachin says “As long as I’m healthy, I’ll keep on keeping on and writing about the experiences. I have enough books on the drawing board I hope I live long enough to get them done.”

Mary Peachin enjoys travel and adventure. She will tackle anything from fly fishing to deep sea fishing, and swimming with everything from sharks to crocodiles. Here she is fly fishing in the Dean River in British Columbia.

Fly Fishing

Rooster Fish

Lee Allen is a Tucson-based freelance writer.