Late genealogist Mary Smith Fay almost didn't take the biggest case of her life. She recalled in a 1985 interview getting a telephone call from attorney Ted Dinkins.
He was asking for help. He had been appointed to represent the unknown heirs of Howard Hughes Jr., the eccentric multimillionaire who had died without a will, and he needed the assistance of a crackerjack genealogist.Fay found enough time in her busy schedule to work on the case from 1977 to 1981. She helped establish the claims of twenty-two cousins and step-cousins, who were able to share in Hughes' estimated $2.5 billion estate.
Fay was certified by the Board for Certification of Genealogists in Washington, D.C. She also was an amateur sleuth with an inquisitive mind, a dry sense of humor and energy that belied her 60-odd years. She had been likened to Miss Marple, the matronly investigator starring in some of Agatha Christie's murder mysteries, and it was an apt comparison.
Dinkins pressed on. Was she interested in the job - possibly the case of a lifetime?
In retelling the story today, Fay blushes. "I said no; I was busy."[Houston Chronicle, July 8, 1985]