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Memphis Daily News
Saluting One of the Greatest
February 2, 2015
By Dr. Mary C. McDonald

Tom Brokaw called Mary Margret Foley one of the greatest. No, not by name, but as one of that critical mass of individuals in this country born between 1900 and 1925 whom he dubbed “The Greatest Generation” in his book by the same name.

Their hallmark is resilience and their duty to God, country and family. In wave after wave they accepted new realities and worked through their adversity with courage and patience, refusing to give up. They rebounded from their hardships and misfortunes and adapted to a rapidly changing world, becoming role models for all those who understand the importance of the kind of greatness needed to make our country, our society better.

The seeds of that same greatness are embedded in every generation, but learning how to accept what you’ve lost, to be resilient, to have a clear sense of purpose and to put together something that’s good is their greatest gift to those who follow.

Thousands of great personal stories of overcoming adversity from people in that Greatest Generation are mirrored in Mary Margret’s.

At age 7, she stood in the Depression-era bread lines to bring food home to her family. She was the oldest of her siblings, and it was her duty to her family. When she graduated from high school, she put her dream of becoming a nurse aside to join the war effort on the home front.

She became “Rosie the Riveter” at Fisher Aircraft in Memphis. She riveted wings and gas-tank doors on Billy Mitchell B-25 Bombers. It was her duty to her country.

After World War II ended, she resurrected her dream of nursing, but, once again, she put it aside to help take care of her family. It was her responsibility as the oldest. Instead of going to school, she got a job at Montesi’s Grocery Store. It wasn’t long before she was promoted to cashier, the first female cashier at the store. It was quite an accomplishment for a woman at that time.

When the economy improved and Mary Margret saved enough from her job and moonlighting as a basketball coach and a referee in the Memphis Park Commission, she fulfilled her dream deferred and became a nurse.

She retired from nursing as the charge nurse at The MED in OB/GYN, where she assisted in the delivery of thousands of babies in new generations of Memphians. Now, she volunteers at her church and with The Ladies of Charity.

Mary Margret is the last living member of her generation in her family. Not long ago her younger brother died. He was given a military funeral and buried in Memphis National Cemetery.

The American flag that draped his coffin was folded and presented to Mary Margret with the gratitude of the President of the United States for her brother’s service. She clutched the flag to her as the soldier saluted. Her brother earned that flag, but I believe that Mary Margret earned that salute for her service to God, country and family.

Contact Dr. Mary C. McDonald, a national education consultant, at 574-2956 or visit

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