Mary L. Scranton

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Mary L. Scranton, civic leader and former Pennsylvania first lady, died on Dec. 26 in Montecito, Calif., following a long illness. She was 97. She and her late husband, Gov. William W. Scranton, celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary in 2013, shortly before his death.

Mrs. Scranton was born Mary Lowe Chamberlin in Scranton in April 1918 during the virulent worldwide flu epidemic. She was one of the only babies of a flu-struck mother who survived that year. She was the daughter of the late William Lawson and Margaret Lowe Chamberlin. A graduate of Scranton Country Day School, the Masters School and Smith College, she held honorary degrees from Moravian College and the University of Scranton.

Following college, she went to work at the Army Air Force Intelligence Service in Washington, D.C., where she prepared the report that served as the basis for the Churchill-Roosevelt summit meeting following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. During World War II she also served as a nurse's aide for the American Red Cross.

Wife, mother, grandmother, she was political partner to former Gov. William W. Scranton, forming a forceful alliance with her husband that took him from the U.S. Congress to the governorship of Pennsylvania and finally to the United Nations as America's ambassador.

At the same time, she raised four children, was aunt to an extended family of nieces and nephews numbering 21 and was grandmother to three.

She exhibited a spirit of adventure early on that served her well in an unusual life, gaining her single- engine pilot's license at age 22, taking to the ski slopes back when skiing meant climbing the hill on your own. One of her husband's favorite photos was her descending a 40-foot ladder from a stuck ski lift in a blizzard on one of her later ski adventures.

While raising her children, she served the community of her birth through the presidency of Friendship House, and as a founder of Scranton Neighbors, through extensive efforts to provide housing to the city. She was the first female trustee of the University of Scranton.

She was also the first female trustee of the California Institute of Technology, serving from 1975 to 1989. She was appointed chairman of the board's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Advisory Committee. During her tenure the future of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory was in serious jeopardy. She devised and executed a plan to rally support in Congress for funding JPL into the future. Her success was lauded in an article in Caltech's Engineering and Science magazine. She had a passion for space explorations and often had a front-row seat for many of American's most exciting space probes. The recent JPL successes with its missions to Pluto and Mars are in a very real sense part of her legacy.

She brought joy to her family and closest friends with her delight in things of delicate beauty, especially in nature.

She had a special talent for making shy and insecure children feel worthwhile and important. She had a gift for seeking them out in social situations, and by talking to them one on one, making them feel welcome. She understood intuitively the vulnerabilities people, especially children, feel because she felt them herself. She was a private woman whose fate it was to lead a public life.

Surviving are her daughter, Susan Scranton Dawson, North Abington Twp.; sons, William W. Scranton III and wife, Maryla, North Abington Twp.; Joseph C. Scranton and wife, Martha, Tecumseh, Kan.; and Peter K. Scranton and wife, Marcie, Los Angeles, Calif.

Her brother, W. Lawson Chamberlin, preceded her in death.

A celebration of her life will take place on Friday, Jan. 15, 2016, at 11 a.m. in Covenant Presbyterian Church, 550 Madison Ave., Scranton.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the California Institute of Technology, 1200 East California Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91125 or to the .
Published in Scranton Times from Dec. 28, 2015 to Jan. 5, 2016
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