“Step aside, Indiana Jones…”

By CORKY SIMPSON sportswriter for the Tucson Citizen

September 7, 2001 article

Step aside, Indiana Jones, your movie adventures pale against the real-life stuff of silver-haired Tucson housewife Mary Peachin. Shes the late Leon Levys daughter — he owned one of Arizonas most successful department stores, was a member of the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame and was one of the states real movers and shakers.

His daughter is something else. Among other things, she has:

  • Chased — and been chased by — sharks.
  • Bungee jumped off a very high bridge in Australia.
  • Kayaked in Canada.
  • Poked around coral reefs.
  • Flown airplanes and those ultra-light propeller things that look like flying lawnmowers.
  • Glided and soared through the air, probed underwater caves, stalked polar bears. . .gasp!
  • And spent 23 years looking for, and finally bumping into, so to speak, a polka-dotted sea monster as big as a submarine.

Mary found a whale shark, the great spotted king of all fish, 60 feet below the surface in the Pacific Ocean off Ecuador. It was a couple of years ago and Mary, recalling this scuba-diving nirvana over coffee at the Rincon Market, said it was like hitting a home run in the World Series or making a slam-dunk in the Final Four. So, we asked, was the 23-year search for the elusive sea monster worth it? “Are you kidding?” she asked. “Can you think of anything neater than seeing a h-u-g-e shark with polka dots?” Well, yes, we can: staying as far away from sea monsters as possible.

Not Mary.

“I spent years looking for one of those beauties and Ill never forget the thrill of actually finding one,” she said. “They e beautiful. They look like a whale, except for the polka dots.” Mary just returned home from a summer fishing in Canada, mostly in British Columbia and the Yukon.

“It was great. It was cool and beautiful and I left my heart up there,” she said. For her next adventure, Mary is training for the RoughWater Swim at La Jolla, Calif. on Sept. 9. “I’m going to swim the mile distance,” she said. What sends the wife of Tucson accountant David Peachin around the world in search of wild beasts and weird things to do, is a giant-sized curiosity which she has turned into a profession. Shes an adventure-travel writer/photographer. Mary has written for the Citizen, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Dallas Morning News and Chicago Tribune.

And in June she was awarded five writing and photography awards from the Society of American Travel Writers. “When I first started diving for sharks, in 1992,” she said, “I ran into Dick Vonier (late member of the Citizen staff and editor of the now defunct City News) on a parking lot one day. “Dick said, Whatcha been up to lately, Mary? “I told him Id been shark-diving. “And he said, Wow! Id like to have a story about that. And that’s how I got started writing about the crazy things I do.” In between flights of fancy and dives of danger, Mary is pretty much your typical charity-fundraiser-civic-minded housewife. And she says the “danger” notion is an exaggeration. “Danger is when I feel Im not in control,” she said. And how often has she not be in control? “Well, Ive had to get out of the water rather quickly a few times, because of sharks who looked a little too curious,” she said. “And I had a not-too-friendly encounter with a saltwater crocodile once in the Solomon Islands, near where the Battle of Guadalcanal took place.

“I bumped into the crocodile in an underwater cave — and I got out fast.” Mary credits — or blames, take your pick — her understanding husband for her adventure forays. “He bought me my first bicycle, and thats what got it started,” she said. During tax season one year, with David buried up to his eyebrows in work, Mary looked around for some interesting diversion to occupy her time. So she pedaled from the Grand Canyon to Nogales. In first gear!

“I didn know how to shift gears — I didn even know there were gears,” she said. “I was ready to leave that bike at an orphanage in Nogales– no more of that! — when somebody pointed out, Hey, Mary, you know its easier when you shift gears.”

Her ancestors came to Arizona in a covered wagon from Texas in the 19th Century. They settled in Douglas, where they opened a store, the one her father would take over when his University of Arizona football career ended in 1933.

Eventually the business was moved to Tucson. Levys was located for years downtown on Pennington. “Everyone who grew up in Tucson in the 1940s and 1950s, I think, worked at one time at Levys,” she said. It was in the 50s that Levys moved to El Con shopping mall on Broadway. After Mr. Levy died, the business was sold and has since gone through multiple owners.

Leon’s adventuresome daughter said she took up flying at an early age, much to his dismay. “The first time I flew solo to Mexico, my dad called the FAA and tried to have the plane stopped,” she said. “He was too late.”

She’s had a great time with her adventure trips and writing assignments, and said she owes it all to her husband. “David allows me to be a free spirit,” she said. He even joined “Indiana Mary” for a bike ride across the island of Hokkaido in Japan one year. “We rode from Hakodate to Sapporo,” she said. “We don speak the language, so I had these laminated cards made up that read in Japanese: I’m Mary. Can you point the way to Sapporo? “They worked.”

The Peachins have two children, Suzie, a school teacher in Portland and Jeffrey, a CPA in San Francisco. And the kids have followed, at least to some extent, the example of their thrill-seeker mother. Jeff is a mountain climber and Suzie loves to fly-fish.

In addition to adventuring all over the planet, Mary and David are diehard University of Arizona sports fans. “Like tons of other kids who grew up in Tucson, I used to sit in the knothole gang seats at Arizona Stadium, she said. “I didn have to, but I enjoyed it more in those seats.”

As for her improbable — and downright incredible — exploits around the globe, Mary says simply: “I like to live each day to the limit, to the fullest.” And she likes to chase giant sea monsters to the polka-dottiest.