In Memoriam: Mary Rose Ford

1916–2012

by John Poston, Sr., and Roger Cloutier

Mary Rose Ford passed away on 13 September 2012 in Dandridge, Tennessee, at the age of 95 after a long illness. She had described her life as a wonderful and happy experience. Her parents, Henry B. and Rillie O. Eli of Crofton, Kentucky, predeceased her. She is survived by her husband of 64 years, the Honorable Richard R. Ford; by their daughter and son-in-law, Sue Ford Harris and Charles M. Harris of Alexandria, Virginia; by his daughters, Ashleigh Coniglio and her husband, Steve, Courtenay Jones and her husband, Newell, and their three children; by her sister, Vera E. Mitchell; and by her brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, Henry and Mirrell Ford, Joseph and Mary Ford, David and Brenda Ford, Conley and Mary Ford, Nona and Robert Nutter, Ann and Eugene Bradburn, Mary Ford Tipps, Dana Ford Jones, and Donald Ford.

Mary grew up on a farm in Christian County, Kentucky, where she attended public schools. She taught school for a time in a one-room schoolhouse. After graduating from the University of Kentucky, she was a medical laboratory technician at Camp Campbell and later at Oak Ridge Methodist Hospital. She did postgraduate studies at the University of Kentucky. After World War II, Mary became a health physicist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the then-new science discipline of health physics. She continued postgraduate classes at the University of Tennessee, where she met her husband to be, Richard Ray Ford.

Mary worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for 35 years, where she worked with Dr. Walter Snyder and Dr. K.Z. Morgan in researching the effects of radiation. All her colleagues and close friends knew her as "Mary Rose." She was one of the pioneers in the health physics profession, was a charter member of Health Physics Society (HPS), and continued her membership for 56 years!

Mary calculated and compiled much of the valuable data in the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) Publication 2: Permissible Dose for Internal Radiation, which was published in 1959. During the 1960s most health physicists turned to this publication for information about the maximum permissible body burden for radionuclides and their occupational concentration limits in air and water. Mary was a leader in understanding the importance of internal dose limits and also in their limitations. She freely volunteered information to anyone who needed help in understanding data related to internal radiation dose calculations. 

She served with colleagues who founded the Health Physics Journal and published her research in Health Physics. She admired her colleagues and their many accomplishments in their efforts to make the world a safer place for the beneficial uses of radiation while protecting against its potential dangers.

Both of us had the pleasure of working with Mary. We observed that she was extremely efficient and was the "woman behind Walter Snyder." She was really his right hand when it came to all the professional things in which he was involved—the ICRP (with ICRP Publications 23, 30, and 38 being most notable) and the Medical Internal Radiation Dose (MIRD) committee of the Society of Nuclear Medicine (with all the MIRD pamphlets) are just two examples. Mary was so organized and so careful in her work. She and Walter made a great team. In addition, she was down to earth and made everyone comfortable around the two of them.

Though her professional achievements were notable, throughout her career Mary reserved first place for her family. She was a kind and gentle person who avoided public notice of her professional achievements. Her memberships included Dandridge First United Methodist Church, the HPS, the Knoxville Bar Auxiliary, and the Dandridge Garden Club. She enjoyed her family, her many friends, and her retirement years in the family home in Jefferson County. Mary had bid all farewell "until we meet again." And now she has gone to her new and final home.