Schaller remembered by friends and family

Published 12:19 am Sunday, May 24, 2009

“My mother’s heart was as big as all outdoors,” said Karen Schaller, daughter to Mary Lea Mallett Schaller, who passed away on Wednesday, April 15 in Charleston, S.C., and although she was away from her hometown when she died, it is said by many that her heart always belonged to Picayune.

Mary Schaller was born in Carriere on April 8, 1926, to Fred Wilson and Loretta Dobson Mallett. She attended school in Carriere and graduated from Carriere High School. She then attended nursing school at Laurel Memorial Hospital School of Nursing. She became a registered nurse in 1946 which was said to be her life’s calling due to her love of helping people.

Upon completion of her nurse’s training, Schaller promptly returned to Picayune. She would be married on November 23, 1947, to David Buie Schaller in the old Picayune Methodist Church. The couple had two children, Kathryn Elaine and Karen Sue.

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Her daughters confirmed her love of nursing and said their mother’s career spanned a total of more than 40 years. She even continued to volunteer for more than 20 years beyond.

“She was very proud to be a nurse,” said daughter Karen. She said her mom worked first in the operating room of Martin Sanatorium in Picayune and then later at Crosby Memorial Hospital. She also worked as a relief nursing supervisor at Martha Coker Convalescent Center in Yazoo City when the couple followed the move of AMCO, David Schaller’s employer, in 1963.

Daughter Kathryn Richburg added, “One of Mary Lea’s greatest prides was that of being a registered nurse. She touched so many in formal and private settings through her profession. It is of interest that her love and dedication to nursing has had a positive impact on members of her family and on the nursing profession.” Thus, both of her younger sisters became nurses, her two daughters became nurses and married nurses and one of her three grandchildren and his fiancée are nurses.

So it would be no surprise that when Mary Schaller and her husband returned to Picayune in 1979, she “attempted retirement” but did not succeed. Her calling was said so great that she then began working in home health.

Most remember Schaller also being a key player in the Mississippi Blood Services’ efforts in Picayune and throughout Pearl River County during blood drives, working first with drawing blood and then as a faithful volunteer.

Schaller was said to be the awesome driving force behind her church’s blood drives too. Throughout the years, she formed a very tight bond with her church family, First United Methodist Church in Picayune.

“Every six months, she was the force behind the church making our goal for the blood drive and you could always tell when it was blood drive time since Mary Lea always wore a Red Dress on the Sunday before the drive,” said Billy Walley, a local attorney and friend of Schaller’s. “And you knew she would be behind the podium begging for more blood.”

Schaller would follow up those efforts of her church and let everyone know where they stood with her the Sunday after the blood drive too. She would either wear red again to let the congregation know the drive went well or black to say, tongue-in-cheek, that they were all in trouble. Fortunately the black dress got little wear time.

“She was an awesome, awesome lady,” said Beverly Clark who worked with Schaller at Mississippi Blood Services. Clark described her as nurturing and said that Schaller was always a very independent lady. “She cherished what she did, she cherished her patients.”

Clark said she will be one of about five ladies who plan to attend Schaller’s memorial, scheduled for next weekend in Picayune, wearing red. “We are wearing red for Miss Mary,” continued Clark.

Being independent and a woman of great inner strength, according to both daughters, Mary Schaller stayed in Picayune until the winds of Hurricane Katrina ravaged both the Gulf Coast and some of their mother’s strong-willed exterior. She wanted to stay independent and she wanted to stay in Picayune but Karen Schaller said the storm prompted her mother to start admitting to some of her health problems. She moved to Charleston to be looked after by daughter Kathryn and her husband, W.E. “Edd” Richburg Sr.

While the move probably helped add a few more years to her life, being under the careful care of her daughter and son-in-law, Mary Schaller always regretted being away from Picayune. Her daughter Karen said it was through the phone calls, letters, cards and visits from her friends and family from Picayune, that Mary Schaller was able to keep going and keep connected with her beloved hometown.

“Her heart was always in Picayune,” said daughter Karen. “It always bothered her that she couldn’t get back.” She said that her mother missed her family in Picayune — nieces and nephews and their spouses — because they were all extremely important to her.

Walley added, “When [Mary Lea] left Picayune to live with her family, she really left her heart in Picayune — she called her church family every day to check on their health and to wish them happy birthdays.”

Although there was no funeral held for Mary Schaller as it was her wish to have her body dedicated to research at the Medical University of South Carolina, a memorial service will be held in her honor, 2 p.m., Saturday, May 30 at First United Methodist Church in Picayune. All family and friends of Mary Schaller are welcome to attend. The family requests any gifts be made in “Miss Mary Lea’s memory” to the First United Methodist Church in Picayune or to the Episcopal Church of Holy Communion in Charleston.