Mary Dorothea Coryell

Date of Birth

May 20, 1916

Date of Death

May 25, 2012

City of Death

Santa Barbara

05/20/1916 – 05/25/2012

“My birth was recorded as ‘Female Smith’ and I was born in New York City during a year when my father, E.K. Smith, was on furlough from his teaching job (English) from Tsinghua College. My mother, Grace Goodrich Smith, was born in Tungchou, twelve miles from Peking, where her parents were Congregational Missionaries. Grandpa Chauncey Goodrich went to China on a sailing vessel in 1865 and my Grandma Sarah Clapp in 1879. I grew up on the campuses of Tsinghua and Yenching Universities and graduated from high school at the North China American School in Tungchou.

In 1935, I went to Bennington College, Vermont, and graduated in 1939 with a degree in ‘Modern Dance and Related Arts.’ In 1937 I married Norman Hanwell, a China scholar. We returned to china in 1939. Norman died of a heart infection in October 1941. I taught Dance at Yenching University. During World War II may father and I were interned by the Japanese and then repatriated to the United States in 1943. I married Lieutenant Norman Gabel in 1944. In civilian life he was an Anthropology Professor. After discharge from the army 1947, we came to Santa Barbara where he taught at UCSB until his death in 1961. We had two children, David and Judith. In 1963 I married Burr Coryell.”

Mary Dorothea Coryell died peacefully on May 25, 2012, just 5 days after her 96th birthday. She wrote the short biography above in 1992, one of her many writing projects. Her life was an abundance of family, dance teaching, writing, drama productions, dedication to causes promoting justice to all, and her adopted Chinese heritage. She wrote several books of memoirs and family history, including her beloved “Small Mouse Person.” After China opened up to world travelers, she led tours in China, where her fluency in the Chinese language never failed to endear her to all the Chinese people she came in contact with.

She was preceded in death by her 3 husbands, her sister Janet, and brother Ernest. She leaves behind her son David and his wife, Joanne, her daughter, Judith and her husband Lance, 5 grandchildren (Mark & John Gabel, Christine Gabel Coffey, and Heather & Sarolyn Boyd), and 3 great-grandsons (Jacob, Andrew and Stephen Coffey), all of whom she adored. No obituary can capture her love of life, delight in entertaining her many Chinese friends, and endless energy to plan another dance program or pageant, or her next trip.

The family would like to thank the staff at Vista del Monte and Visiting Nurse Hospice for their caring and kindness in Dorothea’s final days. A memorial to celebrate her life will be held at 2:00, June 15, at The First Congregational Church in Santa Barbara. In her memory, donations can be made to Visiting Nurse Hospice, and the First Congregational Church.


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