Floral 03

Mary M. Chisholm

March 17, 1931 ~ November 17, 2021 (age 90)



Mary McLennan Chisholm was born on March 17, 1931, in Syen Chun, Korea, near the Manchurian border not far from where the Yalu River (forming the border between Korea and Manchuria) empties into the Yellow Sea.  Syen Chun was along one of the two railroad lines that branched near Seoul in central Korea, with one line going up the east side of northern Korea toward Vladivostok in the U.S.S.R, and the other line going up the west side of northern Korea through Pyongyang and past Syen Chun across the Yalu River into Manchuria.  This was, of course, during the time Korea was occupied by Japan and before the division of Korea into North and South which happened after World War II.

Mary was named for her paternal grandmother, Mary McLennan, who along with her husband, Hugh Chisholm, emigrated from Scotland to the United States probably sometime in the 1880’s.  Mary’s parents, William H. Chisholm and Bertha C. Chisholm, were missionaries at the Syen Chun Mission Station of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., and her father was a doctor at In His Name Hospital that was part of the mission station.  Mary’s father was from Berkeley, California and her mother from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  They met at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia while Dr. Chisholm was visiting the Presbyterian mission board that would send him to Korea, and after a short courtship were married and on their way to Korea in 1923.

Along with her two older sisters Grace and Florence, Mary was schooled at home by her mother.  In 1936 the Chisholms returned to the U.S. for surgery needed by Mary’s mother.  When they returned to Korea in 1938, Mary’s oldest sister Grace was sent to Pyongyang Foreign School in Pyongyang to start eighth grade, and two years later Florence was sent there along with Grace in the fall of 1940.  The family had to leave Korea in November 1940 before Mary was old enough to go to boarding school.  Winters were remembered by Mary and her sisters as cold but providing great sledding and other outdoor activities.  And there were the summer visits to Sorai Beach, which was located further south on the west coast of Korea below Pyongyang.  Mary and her sisters especially remembered the wide sandy beach reaching out into ocean.  Sorai Beach was a place where other foreign missionary families also gathered in the summer.

But the 1930’s was a growing time of war and threat of war worldwide, starting with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria six months after Mary was born and the growing threat from Nazi Germany in Europe.  Mary’s sister Grace remembered that Japanese troops were sent to Manchuria over that railroad line which ran through Syen Chun.  After Japanese troops invaded French Indochina in September 1940 the U.S. State Department advised U.S. citizens in Japan and its occupied territories, including Korea, to leave.  In November 1940 the Chisholms left Korea and returned by ship to the U.S., settling at first in Berkeley, California, at the home of Dr. Chisholm’s father, Hugh Chisholm and his sister Ellen Chisholm at 1912 Channing Way, two blocks from the University of California at Berkeley.  The Chisholm family all remembered returning home from church on Sunday, December 7, 1941 to find that the United States was at war with Japan following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. 

Hugh Chisholm passed away sometime in 1942, and Mary and her family moved to Philadelphia where Dr. Chisholm took a position at the Independent Board for Foreign Missions.  Dr. Chisholm had left the Presbyterian Mission Board at the end of his time in Korea because of its failure to stand against Japanese pressure for Korean Christians to offer worship to local Shinto shrines, and had joined the Independent Board for Foreign Missions which strongly opposed this Japanese pressure on Korean Christians as contrary to Scripture.

Mary attended schools in Berkeley and Philadelphia until her graduation from Germantown High School in Philadelphia in 1948.  In that same year, Mary’s parents were able to return to Korea, but this time to the Pusan area on the southeast coast of now South Korea, where they served until 1955 through the time of the Korean War (with some periods of evacuation due to the war). 

In the fall of 1948, Mary followed both of her older sisters and enrolled in Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, from which she was graduated in 1952, majoring in zoology.  At Wheaton, one of her classmates was Betsey Cunningham, who Mary initially met and became friends with some years earlier when the Chisholm family stayed with the Cunningham family during deputation travel.  Mary’s friendship with Betsey lasted Mary’s entire life and was a wonderful support to Mary throughout those many years. 

The Wheaton yearbook from Mary’s senior year states that Mary was class Social Co-Chairman her sophomore year, member of the Pre-Med Club her senior year, and member of the Foreign Missions Fellowship her junior and senior years.  After graduation from Wheaton, Mary returned to Philadelphia to do some study at Faith Seminary while exploring whether she had a calling to be a missionary.  During this time Mary pursued an interest in horseback riding, and she had a car which someone must have given her.  It was a yellow Oldsmobile convertible.  Mary’s nephew, Dan Morton, remembers this car, since it became the family car for his parents when Mary returned to Korea.  Dan never remembers his parents driving it with the top down, but it is almost a certainty that Mary did so.  Mary also had a lifelong interest in opera, and perhaps it was at college or during this time following college in which that interest developed.

In the latter part of 1954, Dr. Chisholm was preparing to leave Korea on furlough.  Mary’s mother was already back in Philadelphia.  Mary then decided to return to Korea to help in her father’s work in Pusan because the mission was short of workers.  Mary still had a very good working knowledge of the Korean language and was a welcome addition to the mission.  When Dr. Chisholm went on furlough to the United States in November 1954, Mary chose to remain in Korea, living with Marjorie Hanson, another missionary from the Philadelphia area working with Dr. Chisholm in Pusan.  In a letter from Dr. Chisholm dated September 14, 1955, he wrote that just before he left on furlough in November 1954, “Mary asked me to pray definitely that she might get the Lord’s leading as to whether she should be a missionary.”

Mary was now coming to what became the defining moment of her life.  In early June 1955 while still in Korea, she contracted bulbar polio.  This time of Mary’s life is described in a good bit of detail in her father’s 1955 letter mentioned above, as well as in an undated letter many years after from Mary Plein, one of the nurses at the U.S. Army hospital in Korea who cared for Mary while hospitalized there and where Mary’s life was miraculously saved.  Dr. Chisholm’s letter has running through it a strong commitment to prayer by Mary’s parents and also by many family members, friends and acquaintances, both in the United States and Korea.  It also mentions several times experience by the Chisholms and several others of the peace of God which surpasses all understanding notwithstanding the critical circumstances of Mary’s condition.

Dr. and Mrs. Chisholm were at the Bible Presbyterian Church Synod in St Louis, Missouri when on the morning of Tuesday, June 7 they received a cable from the Red Cross that Mary had “probable polio” and the Medical Officer of the 8th Army 121st Evacuation Hospital desired the presence of Dr. Chisholm.  Dr. and Mrs. Chisholm took the train immediately to Philadelphia, and on the following day Dr. Chisholm traveled by train to New York to visit the Korean embassy in order to expedite approval for their return to Korea.  At that time Mrs. Chisholm’s passport had expired and her return permit to Korea had long since expired.

Before Dr. and Mrs. Chisholm had left St Louis, the president of their mission board and a former missionary in Korea who was an acquaintance of Korean President Syngman Rhee, offered to cable President Rhee to see if he could expedite matters for the Chisholms’ return to Korea.  Dr. Chisholm’s letter describes what happened while at the Korean embassy in New York: “I was speaking with the Korean Consul about an immediate return to Korea.  He felt that in our emergency he could stretch a point for me, but as my wife’s passport and her re-entry permit for Korea were so far out dated she could not possibly go.  Ordinarily it should take at least a month.  As I was there with him a cable came.  It was from President Rhee, ordering them to expedite the Chisholm departure.  ‘Where the word of a king is, there is power.’  Yes we could have the needed permits!  They could get us fixed up right away!”  While Dr. Chisholm was still at the Korean embassy he received a telephone call from Mrs. Chisholm in Philadelphia, who had just received a cable from Korea telling them that polio diagnosis was established and Mary was in critical condition in an iron lung.

On the following day, Thursday, June 9, the Chisholms left for Korea by plane from New York.  When they arrived in Seoul, they were invited by the officer of the 121st Evacuation Hospital to stay on the Army compound and assist with the care of Mary.  There were some very close calls with Mary’s survival before the Chisholms arrived, but Mary’s condition was now continuing to improve to the surprise of the Army doctors and medical staff.  Toward the end of August, Mary’s doctors at the Army hospital decided she should be sent to a polio care center in the United States. 

The letter referred to above from the Army nurse, Mary Plein, reported on the care she gave to Mary at the Army hospital and her continuing improvement.  “My greatest happiness came,” wrote Mary Plein, “when I placed a pad and pencil inside the respirator and Mary was able to write, ‘You saved my life.’  Only then was I able to forget all my bruises and aching muscles caused by bumps from parts of the big machine in which I had to work whenever I cared for my patient.”

Mary was flown – still in an iron lung – by the Military Air Transport Service to a polio respiratory center in Buffalo, New York.  Dr. and Mrs. Chisholm were not permitted to accompany her on the military flight.  There are clippings from newspapers in Oakland and Berkeley, California about Mary’s flight, and one with a picture of Mary being carried in an iron lung by military personnel while changing flights at a nearby airbase, with her Aunt Ellen Chisholm standing by.  But despite a long wait and having taken a day off from work, Aunt Ellen was not permitted by the doctors at the base hospital to enter and visit with Mary.  There is also an undated article from the Buffalo Evening News which must have been from around the time of Mary’s arrival in Buffalo, describing her five-day series of flights from Pusan, South Korea to Buffalo and her arrival at the “respirator center at the University of Buffalo Chronic Disease Research Institute”, reporting that Mary’s “cheerful smile and optimistic outlook immediately won the hearts of all.”  The article also states that “it is believed to be the longest flight ever made by an iron-lung patient.”  The article is accompanied by a picture of Mary lying on her back in a hospital bed – outside of an iron lung – with her oldest sister Grace and one of her doctors standing by the bed.  Grace Chisholm Morton and her husband John had driven to Buffalo from Philadelphia for a surprise visit with Mary in Buffalo.  The article describes Mary “in red pajamas, a cluster of red flowers in her ponytail hairdo” listening “delightedly” to a tape recording of good wishes made by friends.

Dr. and Mrs. Chisholm left Korea for the last time in December 1955 and returned to Philadelphia where Dr. Chisholm had a position at the Independent Board for Foreign Missions.  Mary continued to improve and succeeded in walking again, and regained her ability to speak, but for the rest of her life breathed through the tracheotomy performed on her throat under urgent emergency conditions – without local anesthesia – while Mary was in critical condition on her arrival at the Army hospital in Korea.  There is a picture from the cover of the October 1956 edition of the monthly publication of the Independent Board for Foreign Missions of Mary standing next to her father as they are finely dressed and leaving the polio center in Buffalo side-by-side.

Mary and her parents moved to the Los Angeles, California area probably in the last years of the 1950’s at least partly because of Mary’s doctor’s recommendation that the Southern California climate would be better for Mary’s health.  In California Mary continued to improve, eventually being able to drive again, and even working very hard on her certification to become a Certified Public Accountant.  She passed her CPA exam in 1970 and needed two years of working with a CPA to get her own certificate.  In September of 1971 Mary was offered and accepted a part-time job with a CPA, which soon turned into full-time.  This was Mary’s first permanent job since the time she contracted polio, and it was quite a demand on Mary’s strength.  Mary carried a respirator and extra batteries in the back seat of her Toyota so she could pause while at work or on errands and spend 15 minutes or so getting re-energized on the respirator.  Available sources don’t indicate whether Mary ever got her own CPA or how long she was able to keep working.  When Mary’s nephew Dan Morton visited the Chisholms in the summers of 1975 and 1976 he does not recall that Mary was working at that time.  Mary’s nephew Steve Morton remembers a visit, probably sometime toward the end of the 1970’s, when Steve helped his father John Morton with a painting project he was doing for the Chisholms.

Mary’s older nephews in the Morton family remember a visit from California from Mary and her parents in 1961 while the Mortons were living in Quarryville, Pennsylvania, a small farming community in Amish country in Lancaster County.  The Morton’s dog had recently given birth to a litter of 10 puppies, a few of which had died.  One of the remaining puppies was not doing well with a lump growing on his back.  Mary named him Tiny Tim from the Dickens Christmas story and pitched in with her nephews to help care for this sick little puppy.  Sadly, unlike Tiny Tim of the Dickens tale, this puppy succumbed, and Mary comforted her nephews as he was buried in the back yard.

Mary had always been vivacious and energetic, but she was always truly interested in other people and what they were doing.  The incident with Tiny Tim was an example of how she treated her young nephews as real people, ready to listen carefully to what they had to say to her, and encouraged them to find solutions to both everyday disappointments and larger ones, such as the loss of Tiny Tim.  Mary always remembered family birthdays: her niece and nephews, their children and even their grandchildren.  And at Christmas her niece and nephews and their children were always on the lookout for that box of Mary See’s chocolates which Mary sent to them every year.  Mary also had an active prayer life for her family and many others.

During the 1960’s Mary became a licensed ham radio operator and held that license through around 2003.  Her nephew, Dan Morton, remembers that while his family was living in South Portland, Maine between 1962 and 1966 there was a way Mary could contact another ham radio operator who lived a few houses away from the Mortons, and this neighbor was able to patch in his telephone to a phone call from him to the Mortons, thus enabling a ‘free’ long-distance conversation between Mary and her sister Grace. 

Dr. Chisholm died on September 17, 1977.  From 1988 to 1994 Mary’s nephew Paul Morton lived with Mary and her mother during and after he was earning his Ph.D. at the University of Southern California.  Toward the end of 1988 when the health of Mary’s mother was failing, Thelma Semel (sister-in-law of Grace Chisholm Morton) came for an extended visit to assist with Mrs. Chisholm’s care, and after that Mary hired Maria Ortega to continue help with Mary’s mother.  Mrs. Chisholm died in on June 30, 1990, and thereafter Maria continued as a helper for Mary.  In 2006 Mary’s sister Florence Chisholm Anderson and her husband Chuck Anderson came to California to help Mary finally move to Lookout Mountain, Georgia (after some earlier stays which had ended with a return to California) so Mary could live near them.  Mary’s nephew Bill Anderson also came so he could drive them all across the country to Lookout Mountain.  Mary’s new house at 211 Pied Piper Trail on Lookout Mountain was just two houses away from her sister’s.   

After she moved to Lookout Mountain, Mary was still able to get around and care for herself, and she had her sister only a few houses away, her niece Nancy Anderson living in Chattanooga, and her nephew Paul Morton living in nearby Chickamauga, Georgia, who by then had joined the faculty of Covenant College.  In the second decade following Mary’s move to Lookout Mountain, she lost her sister Florence Anderson, who died on June 11, 2014.  No longer having Florence nearby created uncertainty for Mary about now being more truly alone.  Mary continued to live alone with caregivers who came in during the afternoons, but no one staying with her overnight.  Mary’s nephew Paul Morton and faithful friend Robbie Donaldson found Claudia Peters to organize caregivers and Claudia, along with Jennifer Dalton, Margaret Stewart and Mary’s niece Nancy Anderson, provided care for Mary following the loss of Florence.  When Claudia Peters moved to North Carolina in September 2018, it soon became clear that Mary needed someone to be in the house with her around the clock.  That problem was resolved when in December 2018 Mary’s nephew David Morton and his wife Rebecca retired from medical mission work in Malawi and came to live with Mary and care for her at home.  Mary continued to have outside caregivers each afternoon, Jennifer Dalton and Mary’s niece Nancy Anderson, but the bulk of the care fell to David’s wife Rebecca.

During the years David and Rebecca were living with Mary, her health gradually deteriorated due to post-polio syndrome which continued to weaken her respiratory, swallowing and speaking muscles, causing her to be ventilator-dependent.  Communication with Mary gradually was reduced to lip reading and the use of a writing tablet.  Despite all this, however, her mind remained sharp and she continued her very active prayer life for her family and many others.

Mary celebrated her 90th birthday on March 17, 2021 with a small party at home with her nephews David and Paul Morton and their wives, her niece Nancy Anderson, her helper Margaret Stewart, Rev. Addison Soltau who had known Mary during their childhood in Korea, Rev. Joe Novenson of Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church where Mary was a member, and friend and helper Robbie Donaldson.  Her birthday was celebrated with a rousing hymn sing at her bedside, a reading of Psalm 90 (Mary had long since passed three-score and ten), prayers and a small birthday cake with flowers and balloons. 

On the morning of November 17, 2021, David and Rebecca discovered that Mary had died peacefully overnight in her sleep.  All who knew Mary will testify to her continuing witness as one who bore a profound disability for the last 66 years of her long life, but still in praise and worship of her Lord and Savior, and as active as her physical condition allowed her in the lives of her family and friends.


Memorial service at Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church, 316 N. Bragg Ave., Lookout Mt., TN at 11 AM, December 10, 2021. 

Private family interment at Rose Hills Memorial Park, Whittier, CA. 

In lieu of flowers, send contributions to Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church 316 North Bragg Avenue, Lookout Mountain TN 37350.  

“Death be not proud”—“for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”

Arrangements by Chattanooga Memorial Funeral Home 144 Browns Ferry Road Chattanooga   (423) 591-7777.

Please visit www.chattanoogamemorialfuneralhome.com  to send condolences, share memories and photos.



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Memorial Service
December 10, 2021

11:00 AM
Lookout Mtn Presbyterian Church
316 N. Bragg Avenue
Lookout Mtn, Ga 37350

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