During her half-century as an activist, Mary Reed Shepard of Mendota Heights worked for social justice and peace and inspired others to do the same.

The early leader of Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) was arrested several times during antiwar protests and traveled to Iran during the U.S. Embassy hostage crisis in 1980.

"She was very classy, clear-thinking, highly moral," said Twin Cities antiwar icon Marv Davidov. Shepard was "a great activist who came from great wealth. It's rare."

Shepard, 91, died of congestive heart failure July 17 at a St. Paul care center.

"She was one of the real leading lights of WAMM ... very much a leader," said Polly Mann, 90, who co-founded the group in 1981. As a board member who wrote extensively for the group's newsletter, Shepard "was a tremendous researcher, very careful with her facts," Mann said by phone from Albany, N.Y.

Shepard, born in New York City, was the daughter of a Wall Street attorney, and one of her grandfathers and several uncles were Episcopal bishops. "She had a strong ethic in her Episcopalian family that to honor religion you should live it," said her son Lancing Shepard, of Minneapolis. "She interpreted that as fighting for peace and justice. That was where her head was and her heart."

He said he'll always remember his mother's "single-minded pursuit of what she thought was fair and just, and not being afraid to speak her mind and to speak it to anybody." She fought for racial, economic and gender equality, he said, including pushing for the ordination of women as priests in the Episcopal Church.

She protested the Vietnam War as a fight she believed the United States had no reason to join and as one she believed served the interests of the military-industrial complex, Lancing Shepard said. She joined antiwar protesters at the 1968 Democratic Convention and was tear gassed by police, he said.

Shepard became a board member of the antiwar group Clergy and Laity Concerned. In 1980 she joined a group of 50 Americans who visited with Iranian students while the students held U.S. Embassy officials hostage in Tehran. Afterward she told the Minneapolis Tribune that she was "just a Mendota Heights housewife working for peace and justice."

She was also a critical observer of mainstream media coverage of the 444-day hostage crisis. She agreed with the Laity group's statement that the media had not reported the U.S. role in supporting the reign of Shah Muhammad Pahlavi that led up to the hostage crisis.

Christie Nelson, of St. Paul, was a friend who took her teenage daughter to hear Shepard's stories. "She didn't just gripe and read the paper," Nelson said. "She was one to get out there and make a difference."

Davidov, 78, said Shepard had "a great deal of endurance. That's where we make our mark. Staying with it, not giving up." Besides son Lansing, Shepard is survived by a daughter, Kay of Mendota Heights; two other sons, Whit of Libertyville, Ill., and Tom, of Burnsville, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Services will be private.

Jim Adams • 612-673-7658