Mary Chambers, known by many as “Miss Mary,” was 100 years old on Feb. 24; however, she celebrated the occasion on Sunday, Feb. 19, with a big party at The Coffee Company attended by a host of family and friends. Among those attending was Mrs. Chambers’ lifelong friend, Edna Earl Lusk, who was 100 years old last July.
“When I was born, Edna Earl’s mother came to see my mother and she brought baby Edna to see me,” Chambers said. They attended elementary and high school together and also attended the same church.
“We have been lifelong friends,” said Chambers, who continues to live alone, do some cooking and keep house a little. And, she can see well without glasses except to read, has hearing aids, but doesn’t wear them, and the only medication she takes is “one little blood pressure pill each day.” She does walk with the assistance of a cane.
Neither she nor Edna, who resides at the Asbury Center in Johnson City, want to talk about all the changes they have witnessed in their lifetime. “Too many,” said Chambers, noting that electronics was probably the biggest thing, especially in the field of communications.
“There’s computers, of which I know nothing about, and Facebook, which I have no idea what it is. I don’t want no part of either,” she said.
Just days before her 100th birthday, she had her driver’s license renewed for another five years, not that she still drives. “I still have my car, but I probably haven’t driven in a couple of years,” she said.
Her driver is her sister-in-law, Dean Shultz. “When I mention going somewhere, Dean tells me she will take me. She takes me to the grocery store and often shops for me,” Chambers said, noting that Dean was more like a sister to her than a sister-in-law. She has one other sister-in-law, Mary Loyd Shultz, who lived in Elizabethton until she moved to northern Virginia a few years ago to be near her daughter, Rachel.
Mrs. Chambers was the only daughter of H.C. and Anna Shultz. She grew up on D Street, and was the second oldest of six children. During World War II, she and four of her brothers served in the military. The four brothers were Earl, Ernest, Paul and Clarence “Tommy.” All came home expect for Paul, who was reported missing over Lentz, Austria, on March 2, 1945.
“My oldest brother, Bill, was past the draft age and did not serve. I thought that if I went, they might not take my youngest brother, Tommy. Three brothers were already serving. Tommy was a senior in high school, but they called him as well,” she said. Chambers served 33 months in the Women’s Army Corps, entering service in February 1943. “I spent all my time in the states, serving in the quartermasters division of the WAC Supply after basic training at Daytona Beach, Fla.” She was also stationed at George Field, Ill., Malden, Mo., and finally, Houston, Texas, before being discharged in November 1945.
Chambers said her parents were very supportive of her decision to join the military, but “I’m sure there were some anxious moments for them with four children serving in wartime.”
“Back then, you did what you needed to. You worked. Our family was no different than others,” she said, noting that her father worked in supervision for several years at the old Empire Chair Company. He later worked in personnel at the rayon plants. “He was working there when he retired,” Mrs. Chambers said.
She, too, worked at North American Rayon — 40 years in the Spinnerette Shop before retiring in 1962.
She was married to Kyle Chambers, a local homebuilder and former chairman of the board of directors of Elizabethton Federal Savings Bank. They had been married 56 years when he died in September 2006, at the age of 94.
Although they met when they were sophomores in high school, they never began dating until after they both came home from service. He served 35 months during World War II. “We sort of went our separate ways in high school. It wasn’t until he came home from the war and settled down that we got together,” she said. “I know he told me he wasn’t going to marry me until I learned to drive, and that I did. That was in 1946 or 1947.”
Mrs. Chambers and her friend, Edna Earl, are the two oldest members of First Baptist Church. Chambers, although she now does not attend services regularly, has been a member of First Baptist since 1921.
During her earlier years she enj o y e d cooking, and did a lot of it. “I enjoyed cooking for family get-togethers, and we used to have quite a few of them,” she said. She still cooks some, but not much as it’s hard to cook for one person, she offered.
She enjoys reading — “something soft.” In years past, she enjoyed oil painting, doing mostly nature scenes.
She was also active at one time in the Elizabethton B&PW Club and the Eastern Star.
Her plans: “If I’m still around in five years, get my driver’s license renewed.”
Perhaps a niece described her best: “A true Southern lady. Tough, but gentle.”