Mary H. Israel
Mary H. Israel passed away at age 87 on March 10, 2021 in Santa Barbara, California. Born Mary Esther Horn in Canonsburg, PA, to Yee Shee and Fred Fong Horn, Mary was raised with her older brother, Tom, and her younger sisters, Ethel, Ann, Jennie, and Margaret. The only Chinese family in town, they owned a hand-laundry in which the whole family worked. An avid young reader, she got hooked on many genres, including science fiction, which became a lifelong pleasure.
Mary was a top scholar from early in her life, becoming valedictorian of her high school class. Under a full scholarship, she earned her undergraduate degree in the double fields of Chinese studies and Honors in Humanities in 1955 from Stanford University. After attending Radcliffe College, she received a master’s degree in Asian Studies from Claremont Graduate University. Her earliest jobs were teaching at the Boston Children’s Museum and later, at Taipei American School, when she lived overseas and traveled around the world with her husband John Israel.
In the mid-1960’s she and her husband moved to Claremont California, where she taught at Pitzer and where her two daughters, Mei-Ling and Tania, were born. In 1968 the family moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, where Mary was known as an imaginative hostess, enthusiastic UVa basketball fan, erudite book club member, and volunteer for Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic.
Mary was a well-established scholar and lecturer in Chinese and Asian studies. She worked at the University of Virginia as Outreach Coordinator for East Asian Studies and as an instructor in adult education. In 1978, she was a member of one of the first educators’ delegations that visited China prior to normalized relations with the U.S. Later, she became a top lecturing guide on over 30 tours to China for National Geographic and Smithsonian travel groups. She is the author of Chinese Immigrant Cooking, a tribute to her mother that contains family recipes, stories, and photos. In 2008, Mary moved from Charlottesville, VA, her home for 40 years, to Maravilla retirement community in Santa Barbara, CA., where she was highly engaged in community activities and celebrations.
Mary is survived by her daughters, Drs. Mei-Ling and Tania Israel, her sisters, Ann Tom and Jennie Horn, three nieces and one nephew. You can memorialize Mary’s life by enjoying some Chinese cuisine, shopping at Talbots, sending someone a pertinent newspaper clipping, or making a donation to the Food Bank of Santa Barbara County or the American Civil Liberties Union.