Mary Rodes Leaphart Carter, 101, of Missoula, Montana, passed away on Monday, March 27, 2017, at St. Patrick’s Hospital.
She was born on March 5, 1916, in Missoula, Montana, to Mary Rodes Leaphart and Charles William Leaphart. When she was six months old, the family moved to Arvada, Wyoming, to try homesteading. They lived in a one-room cabin with a screened-in porch on about 1,000 acres. It was a change for Mary's mother, a Southern belle from Kentucky. The family homesteaded for four years, then returned to Missoula, where her father became dean of the University of Montana Law School and remained in that position for 40 years. The year they moved back to Missoula, Mary's twin brother and sister, Bill and Betty (both deceased) were born.
Mary started college at the University of Montana but finished her bachelor's degree in nutrition at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Her first job was at a vitamin company in New York City, working in a lab that produced one of the first Vitamin B supplements. A quarter century later, after having raised a family, she earned a Master's in Library Science at Rosary College in Illinois and became a librarian. She was an avid reader, and she was also the author of two books: Mary and the Dean (her mother’s biography) and Rattlesnake Mary (her autobiography).
On July 1, 1938, she married Joseph Coleman Carter. Five years later, he was approached to do confidential work for the military in New York. That work was the Manhattan Project. He helped design the machinery to make the atomic bomb work. Mary was quoted as saying, "I was a homesteader's daughter, and I married a nuclear scientist. That shows you what a difference there was in science and lifestyle in my lifetime."
Her careers and most of her adult life were spent in the East and Midwest. The family lived in New York City; Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and Elmhurst Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. The couple retired to Kentucky, living in Joe's hometown, Versailles. Mary made many friends and became a docent in the art museum of the University of Kentucky. After her husband died, Mary moved back to Missoula in 1998, and she never left. She reconnected with an old childhood friend, Tony Veazy, with whom she enjoyed a wonderful friendship.
When asked what the secret to living to 101 is, she said, “It isn’t much of a secret. Lead a healthy life. And luck. That helps, too.” One of her admirers summed her up as follows, “She was of a class of women I think of as emerging from the land--fiercely independent, strong, self-assured, and stately. She was beautiful, too.”
She was a loving wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and friend. She loved art, horses, flowers, and books.
Survivors include her three sons and one daughter and their families: Joseph (Daniela Bini) Carter, Austin, TX; William (Marla Rolen) Carter, Tampa, FL; John (Megan McNamer) Carter, Missoula, MT; and Carlyle Carter, Evanston, IL. She is also survived by six grandsons, one granddaughter, and one great-granddaughter; Leaphart, Dratz, and Stanfill nieces and nephews; and her caretakers, Linda Leake, Beth Sands, and Amber Riley.
A memorial service will be held in the summer. Sunset Memorial Funeral Home of Missoula, MT is assisting with arrangements. Condolences for Mary’s family may be left at www.sunsetfuneralhomecemetery.com