Mary Elizabeth Corddry, whose reporting documented the changing landscape of the Eastern Shore for The Sun in the 1970s and 1980s, died of cancer Christmas Eve at Senator Bob Hooper House in Forest Hill. She was 93.
A lifelong Marylander, Mrs. Corddry was born in rural Harford County in 1925 to Henry and Ola Umbarger. Her family had migrated from the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia to Harford County in the early 1900s.
After graduating from Frederick’s Hood College in 1946, she became assistant editor of a quarterly magazine called The Land. There, she wrote her family’s history in an article called “Eastern Pioneers – How ‘The Down-Yonders’ Came To Harford.”
In 1950, she married George H. Corddry Jr, then principal of Aberdeen High School. The couple had three children, Mary, George III, and Ellen, before moving to Salisbury in 1957, when her husband became principal of Wicomico Senior High School. The move was followed by the birth of two more sons, David and James.
On the Eastern Shore, Mrs. Corddry reignited her writing career, penning tourism brochures and a monthly newsletter for the Delmarva Advisory Council. She became The Sun’s Eastern Shore correspondent in 1969, working from an office in an old hotel in Salisbury and filing stories by phone or teletype machine. She often took her own photographs — it was too far away to send a photographer from Baltimore — and sent the film on the bus to The Sun’s offices.
“When [The Sun] hired her, they wanted someone from the Shore. They weren’t sure they wanted a mother with five children,” said her eldest daughter, Mary Corddry. Mrs. Corddry assured her new editors that having a family would in no way impede her reporting. And she worked hard to not let her reporting impede family life. Every morning she cooked breakfast and packed lunches for her children, according to her daughter. In the evening, Ms. Corddry recalled, “she’d be on the phone with her editor as she served supper.”
“It was heroic,” said her son, James Corddry. During family vacations in Ocean City, she would often get called upon to cover a story. “I don’t think it mattered if she was actually on vacation,” said her son. Still, he said, “I didn’t ever feel shortchanged in anyway. She always managed to find time for the family. I also was very proud of her.” A skilled multi-tasker, “she both attended and covered my college graduation” from Washington College, said Mr. Corddry, when Walter Cronkite was the commencement speaker.
Mrs. Corddry later reflected in a brief memoir for her family, “This was a watershed period for women, a period when this woman at least felt compelled by lifelong conditioning to produce sit-down dinners for seven every evening no matter what the challenge of deadlines and breaking stories.”
It was a watershed period for the Eastern Shore as well, and Mrs. Corddry’s reporting for The Sun reflected the changing times. The recent construction of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge had drastically opened up the once-isolated area, creating a boom in development in Ocean City and elsewhere. At the same time, Americans were gaining new environmental consciousness.
“It was the conflict of these two forces which was the subject of much of my reporting during my years on The Sun,” Mrs. Corddry wrote.
In the early 1970s, Mrs. Corddry got a scoop that a Worcester County developer was filling in wetlands without a permit, in violation of the Wetlands Act of 1970. Her dogged coverage of the issue helped bring a halt to the construction and won her the Conservation Communicator of the Year Award in 1974 from the Maryland Wildlife Federation. “Worcester County still has a lot of natural areas,” like wetlands, said Ms. Corddry. “It does not look like Sussex County, and I think it’s because she was there at the right time.”
Her stories reflected the idiosyncrasies of Eastern Shore life, from the Crisfield Crab Derby to racial divisions in the Methodist Church. In 1973, Mrs. Corddry covered a state senator’s call for Eastern Shore secession from the state of Maryland. The secessionists’ slogan was “Discover Delmarva, the 51st state.”“Every strange thing that happened she wrote a feature,” said Ms. Corddry.
Mrs. Corddry retired from The Sun at age 62. “She made up her mind,” recalled her daughter. She sent a message to her editor saying: “I quit.” But her writing continued long afterward. She wrote a series of books about the Eastern Shore, including “Maryland’s Eastern Shore: A Guide for Wanderers.”
Ever an outdoorswoman, she enjoyed hiking and kayaking into her 80s, and was even the “sweep” on Sierra Club hikes with her daughter, assisting hikers who were falling behind.
She loved to camp with her family. “In fact, I think she’s probably spent more nights in a tent than she has a hotel,” Mr. Corddry said. “I’d make a bet on that.”
Mrs. Corddry was also an art lover, and subscribed to The New York Times to read about the Manhattan art scene.
An active Quaker, she frequently led meetings, often picking nature and faith as a topic for discussion.
She is is survived by two sons, George H. Corddry III of Florence, Mont., and James H. Corddry of Fairview Beach, Va.; two daughters, Mary C. Corddry of Hampstead and Ellen J. Corddry of Columbia, and four grandchildren and one great-grandson. She was preceded in death by her husband as well as her son David L. Corddry.
A visitation will be held at McComas Funeral Home in Abingdon on Friday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.