Born on July 26, 1930 in Madison, Miss., Mary Helen took her eternal rest on Dec. 17, 2021 in Portland. Mary Helen moved to Oregon from Mississippi and worked as a nurse’s aide at Multnomah County Hospital before it became Oregon Health Sciences University.
As one of less than 10 women of color in the medical field in the area at the time, Mary Helen worked to purchase her home in North Portland in an Albina community neighborhood that grew to accommodate the Black-led Center for Self Enhancement. She often shared with friends and family how she remembered when Unthank Park was constructed and named after Portland’s first African American doctor, Dr. DeNorval Unthank. After showing what a hard-worker she was, she was able to advocate for other people of color to obtain jobs in the hospital.
Under the leadership of the late Rev. Dr. OB Williams, Mary Helen joined Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church where she remained a member, under the leadership of Pastor J.W. Matt Hennessee until her passing.While many will remember the purple house on the corner of Failing and Haight, her memory will live on through her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and a host of family and friends.
A celebration of life will be held on Jan. 7 at 11 a.m. at Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church.