I want to share with you a portrait in selflessness.
Helen Isabelle McGarry was born on January 15th, 1917 in Chicago Illinois to Charles McGarry and Helen O’Sullivan McGarry, both physicians. She was the fifth of nine children.
In 1937, she applied to Norhwestern Medical School. At that time, medical school applicants were men, and Northwestern did not consider female applicants. But they were about to accept a large donation from the Woolworth company, a chain of department stores with their headquarters in Chicago.
Mrs. Woolworth insisted that, if Northwestern Medical School was to accept this endowment, that they accept female applicants. In that 1937 class, they accepted four women.
Dr. McGarry was one of the first four.
She specialized in Ophthalmology and in 1950 co-authored a groundbreaking research paper into the treatment of glaucoma that permanently changed the treatment of that disease.
But it was her generosity to others that was the hallmark of her life.
She would not accept payment from the clergy or the poor. She volunteered at the Chicago Eye Clinic weekly. She was the head of the Ophthalmology department at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, Illinois and encouraged new doctors to include charity work into their practice.
Dr. McGarry never married. owned an apartment on the North Side of Chicago with her mother. After her father died, she took care of her mother, and lived with her full time.
Her life was helping take care of her younger sister’s nine children That family also lived in the apartment. Her younger sister, Jennie, was clinically depressed and often unresponsive to her children’s needs. So Dr. McGarry would see the children daily. She took them horseback riding, prepared Christmas Dinners and Christmas Day breakfasts, and take them on summer vacations. She remembered every one of their birthdays and treated each one, in the moment they were together, as if they were the only person in the world that mattered.
I was one of those nine children. My Mom was her sister. Isabelle McGarry was my “Aunt Iso.”
Today she would have been one hundred and one years old.
I thought you should know about an extraordinary, selfless and brilliant human being.
Happy Birthday, Iso. I miss you.