Mary Brooks loves to go around telling people how much money she makes—$971,020,984.42 last year, for example. The punch line is that she doesn’t get to keep any of it.
Mary, 68, is director in Washington of the U.S. Mint, which manufactures coins. It stamped out 13,466,000,000 separate pieces of small change last year, 10 billion of them pennies, the rest nickels, dimes, quarters, halves and silver dollars. (Paper bills are produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.)
The Mint, which has been under Mrs. Brooks’s stewardship for the past six years, is that rare governmental species: a profit center. This year it will turn back to the Treasury some $800 million, the yield from sales of medals honoring U.S. Presidents, special proof editions of coins that delight numismatists, and the inevitable profit arising from the difference between what coins cost and their face value. (Example: a quarter costs only four cents to make.)
Coin speculators have discovered Mary is as keen as they are about watching pennies. When the price of copper began to rise in 1974 and speculators tried to corner the market on pennies, she announced that the Mint would crank out 400 million more, thus knocking the bottom out of the hoarding game. Later that year, offended by rumors that the gold in Fort Knox was not really all there, she took a group of congressmen and reporters down for a firsthand look. It was the first time the vaults had ever been opened to the public.
Mary started handling money early, when her father, U.S. Sen. John Thomas, put her to work in the family bank in Gooding, Idaho during school vacations. “And,” she says, “I hated it.” She was widowed twice: first husband Arthur Peavey Jr. drowned in a hunting accident in 1941, then in 1946 she married conservative Republican Sen. C. Wayland (“Curly”) Brooks of Illinois. After he died in 1957, Mary became a politician herself—a national committeewoman and later a state senator in Idaho, where her Flat Top Ranch at Muldoon is the largest spread in the southern part of the state. As a loyal Republican she can’t bring herself to utter the word “Watergate,” preferring to euphemize: “You know what.” But she still lives in the apartment building that gave its name to the scandal, along with a housekeeper and a poodle. She watches the Potomac from her balcony and occasionally plays a hand of poker, as she has for 20 years, “for moderate stakes” with old friends like Lawrence Spivak, founder of Meet the Press.
Mrs. Brooks got her position at the Mint as a reward for years of loyal GOP warhorsing, including four months beating the thickets as assistant national GOP chairman for Nixon and Agnew. Whatever her future in Washington, she’ll always have a job waiting for her in Idaho—her ranch hands think the silver dollar pancakes the director of the Mint coaxes out of a big wood stove in the cookhouse are the best in the West.