Mary Steed Stipe Eyles

(7 March 1917 – 29 August 2005)

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Herbarium (NCU) has cataloged eight vascular plant specimens collected by Mary S. Stipe Eyles; many were collected with her spouse, Don E. Eyles.  On the specimens curated by NCU she uses “M. S. Eyles” on the labels.  

In 1939 Mary S. Stipe earned a M.S. degree from the Department of Biology at Emory University.  Her thesis advisor was Dr. Woolford B. Baker and the title of her thesis was “Studies in the life history of Sabulina brevifolia (Nutt.) Small”.

In addition to NCU, herbaria curating vascular plant specimens collected by Mary S. Stipe Eyles include Arizona State University (ASU), Brown University (BRU), Emory University (GEO), Harvard University Herbaria (GH; AMES), Kent State University (KE), Marshall University (MUHW), Mississippi State University (MISSA), North Carolina State University (NCSC), University of Arizona (ARIZ), University of Georgia (GA), University of Tennessee, Knoxville (TENN), and University of Wisconsin, Madison (WIS).


Mary Stipe Eyles died on Monday, August 29, 2005, beloved by many.

Mary was born Mary Steed Stipe on March 7, 1917 in Oxford, Georgia, the third child of John Gordon Stipe and Annie Zuleika Dillard.  Her father was at that time a professor of Spanish at Emory College.  The family moved to Atlanta in 1919 after Emory University was established in its present location.  At Emory her father served successively as Registrar, Dean of Admissions, and finally Vice President and Dean of Faculty.

Mary recalled cups of warm milk straight from the cow they kept at their house on Clifton Road, her father setting traps for rabbits nearby, reading Louisa May Alcott by a stream that ran through what is now Druid Hills High School, and the premier of Gone With the Wind.

Mary attended Agnes Scott College and then transferred to Emory, one of the first women admitted there.  At Emory she met her future husband Don E. Eyles in the office of biology professor Woolford Baker.  They shared a passion for natural science and were married on June 17, 1941.  Don became a commissioned officer in the US Public Health Service.  While heading a laboratory in Memphis, Tennessee he serendipitously discovered that contrary to accepted opinion a human could get “monkey malaria”.  The discovery led to an assignment to study malaria transmission under natural conditions in Malaya.  Malaya was Mary’s greatest adventure. There were three children by now, a dog named Benny, a pet gibbon named Wah Two, and geckos crawling on the walls.  There were expeditions in jeeps to take blood smears of people living deep in the jungle, and side trips to Cambodia and Singapore  Her husband Don died in 1963.

Mary returned to Atlanta and started a new life as a science teacher at Druid Hills High School, where she herself had graduated in 1934.  At Druid Hills Mary became a legend.  She felt that in the modern world a person needed to know biology to be a good citizen. She knew how to pique her students’ interest.  She took them on field trips, and invited them to her house for “brains and eggs”.  When they studied fungi, she brought blue cheese and crackers.  In 1971 she was honored as the best biology teacher in Georgia (Atlanta Journal, May 26, 1971).  For years the living room of her house near the high school was the scene of nightly gatherings of her students and former students, often into the wee hours.  “I may have taught more in my living room than in my classroom,” she said.  Many of her students credit her as a major influence on their lives, and have kept in close contact ever since.  She has been proud of them as well.

Mary Eyles is survived by her three children: Don E. Eyles Jr. of Boston, Massachusetts; Mary Anne McGarraugh of Scotts Valley, California; John G. Eyles of Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and two grandchildren Patrick and Kathleen McGarraugh.  Several years ago Mary Eyles wrote and published her memoirs under the title “I’ve Been Writing a Book Since I was Ten Years Old”.  A Memorial Celebration will be held at Cannon Chapel, Emory University, at 1:30 PM on Monday September 5.  Burial will be at Arlington National Cemetery.1


Powell, Kay.  2005.  Mary Eyles, 88, left imprint on students.  Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sep. 4, 2005.

Her Druid Hills High School biology students created a salon in Mary Eyles’ living room.

In that haven, they explored their teenage angst and search for identity and held lively discussions on politics, social issues, science, sports, literature and history.

As they went off to college, started careers and had families, Mrs. Eyles’ students continued to gather in her house for stimulating conversation and total acceptance. What began with her teaching career in the 1960s — her friends still argue about which class created the salon — endured until her health failed recently.

“In her living room, a whole generation of kids learned to be adults,” said her son Don E. Eyles Jr. of Boston.

The memorial service for Mary Stipe Eyles, 88, of Atlanta is at 1:30 p.m. Monday at Emory University’s Cannon Chapel. She died Monday at DeKalb Medical Center of complications from surgery. The body was cremated. A.S. Turner & Sons is in charge of arrangements.

“First and foremost, she was so open to new things and new ideas, so forgiving,” said magazine writer Matthew Porter of Decatur, Class of ’81. “For instance, I’m a gay man, and she helped me through that out of high school and into college. I’d talk to her about anything. She was a relevant, engaging friend.”

For more than 30 years, Mrs. Eyles’ friends, young and old, knew as long as a light was on in her old farmhouse near the school, they were welcome to knock on the door for comfort or conversation. Drop-ins were offered a drink and held forth while she sipped her weak J&B scotch and soda and chain-smoked Carlton menthol 100 cigarettes.

The drinking age was 18, and she never allowed under-age drinking. Even so, some parents complained. But Mrs. Eyles reasoned that her younger visitors were safer at her house than on the streets, Mr. Porter said.

“Mary didn’t seek out these young people; we sought her out,” he said.

Mrs. Eyles traveled the world, from Djibouti, at the mouth of the Red Sea, to more conventional tourist destinations. She lived in Malaya with her husband, Don Eyles Sr., an officer in the U.S. Public Health Service who died in 1963 of a heart attack aboard ship as the family returned to America.

Widowed with three children to support, she began teaching. Her life was her classroom.

“She had an amazing intellectual curiosity and instilled that in all of us,” said Dale Russell of Atlanta, Class of ’72 and WAGA-TV senior investigative reporter. “You never had the sense she was teaching you. To her, there were always ways in a conversation to introduce nature.”

Mrs. Eyles, who earned a master’s degree in botany from Emory University, was passionate about the natural sciences. She regularly took students on field trips to her favorite spot, Cloudland Canyon State Park in northwest Georgia. When they visited her rented home at Navarre Beach, Fla., — paying $10 a day to cover the cost of their food — nature lessons were woven seamlessly into their everyday play.

In 1971, the National Association of Biology Teachers honored Mrs. Eyles as Georgia’s outstanding biology teacher.

She “let us grow up in a classroom far greater than Biology 101,” Mr. Russell said. “Frankly, in this day and age, she would be fired.” He bemoaned the fact that today most students don’t have that kind of relationship with a teacher.

“At that age, you don’t know who you are or what you are all about. You want to be accepted. When you are an adolescent and someone says you’re OK, that’s monumental for a kid,” he said. “We were lost souls in many ways. She was our life guide.

“You knew if Mary loved you, you were OK,” he added. “She was a foster parent to upper middle class liberal kids, and she made us all better for it.”

She retired in 1981, but the salon continued even into her hospital room the past few months.

“Mary led such a vivid life, and the truth is, so few people do,” Mr. Porter said.

Survivors include her daughter, Mary Anne McGarraugh of Scotts Valley, Calif.; another son, John G. Eyles of Chapel Hill, N.C.; and two grandchildren.


1.  Mary Stipe Eyles.  Tribute Archive.  accessed on 29 March 2021.

2.  Powell, Kay.  2005.  Mary Eyles, 88, left imprint on students.  Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sep. 4, 2005.  Accessed on 29 March 2021.