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For the the past six months, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S guide through publishing's legal maze has been Mary Gibbons, the daughter of a career Air Force officer, who was born in Germany, learned to swim in Greece and became a baseball fan in Enon, Ohio, where she rooted for the Reds (she still does).

Gibbons' curriculum vitae is imposing. A junior Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude graduate of Indiana University, she got her Doctor of Jurisprudence from Harvard Law School in 1976. She joined Time Inc.'s legal department last summer after two years with Breed, Abbott & Morgan, a New York law firm, where her work dealt with "trusts today and patents tomorrow. Little pieces of big things."

Now, as Assistant Counsel to Time Inc., working with SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, she advises us in matters of defamation and copyright. One of her first chores for SI, however, had nothing to do with either of the above. She accompanied reporters Melissa Ludtke Lincoln and Kathy Andria to games at Yankee Stadium during the American League playoffs and the World Series. Lincoln's suit to allow her equal access to locker rooms had just been decided in her favor and Gibbons was on hand to make sure things went smoothly. The reporters sat in the press box and Gibbons watched from the stands. Says Lincoln, "I could always find her if some unforeseeable problem came up. Nothing ever did, but it was good to know she was out there."

By happy coincidence Gibbons' sporting credentials are as impressive as her academic achievements. She was at one time ranked seventh nationally among junior women in small-bore rifle competition, was the Ohio junior champion and shot for Indiana University's women's team. She also taught horseback riding and swimming and was a lifeguard for a Strategic Air Command survival-training unit.

Intending to be a gym teacher, Gibbons entered Indiana U. as a phys ed major, but a sociology course and a part-time job as a teaching assistant changed the direction of her life. "Because the professor I worked with was a criminologist," she says, "I developed a sense of the law and how it worked." Before long she abandoned PE to major in sociology and history.

While her father was stationed near Athens, Mary studied the history of Western civilization at first hand. From the age of five through nine, she rode a school bus that passed the Parthenon, and took field trips to Delphi, Corinth and Marathon.

Gibbons learned to swim during those years and now pursues the sport at Manhattan's West Side YMCA, where last winter she took up scuba diving. She has since dived on several wrecks off Long Island, one a prohibition rum runner that yielded bottles of illicit hooch. "It was rum," says Gibbons, "but you couldn't drink it. You couldn't even stand downwind from it."

On dry land, Gibbons explores New York's ethnic restaurants. "My parents never wanted to live on a base," she says. "We lived 'on the economy,' which in Air Force language means among the natives. Once, in Yugoslavia, I think it was, we were served soup with a chicken head in it."

About her experience among the natives at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Gibbons says, "I like being in personal contact with the client."

The client returns the compliment.