January 5, 1938 to September 16, 2020
She was “fierce”
Marylee Chipman was a breathtaking beauty of passionate values and tremendous heart whose world revolved around family and a few close friends. When it came to Marylee’s singular personality, however, her granddaughter Lexi Chipman described her best with a single word:
“She was fierce in the way she loved her sons,” Lexi said as she read her final letter to her adored grandmother at a moving outdoor ceremony at Forest Lawn on Sept. 25th, “…fierce in the way she protected her granddaughters… fierce all the way down to her fiercely red lipstick.”
The tribute was organized by Marylee’s son, Matthew Chipman, after his mother passed away peacefully at Aegis Assisted Living in Granada Hills on Wednesday, Sept. 16th. She was 82.
“We will meet again”
Fortunately, Matt, his wife Amy, and their three daughters, as well as Marylee’s brother, Eric Matthews, and his wife, Judy, were permitted to visit Marylee and express their love two days before she died. Her brother John Caster and wife Karen visited via Zoom.
Marylee’s husband of 63 years, John Chipman, who also resides at Aegis due to advanced Alzheimer’s disease, grasped the moment sufficiently enough to tell his beloved wife: “We will meet again.”
As happens when people are soul connected, Matthew—before he knew of Marylee’s status—awoke in the middle of the night Wednesday, flooded with thoughts of his mom. Not so coincidentally, perhaps, it happened at the exact time Hurricane Sally made landfall along the Gulf Coast. Sally was Marylee’s mother’s name.
A moment to describe Marylee in terms of her physical appearance, the luxurious dark-brown hair, flawless olive complexion, luminous brown eyes, the eternally slender figure—she could have been a model, was approached on several occasions.
Taking extreme care to always look her best, she could as easily be found dressed in jeans or shorts, cleaning the pool, gardening, scrubbing the notorious green shag carpet in the family room, and laboring over big family dinners.
A mind of her own
Born Jan. 5, 1938 in Pasadena, CA, Mary Lee Mathews was the first of two children of Sally Mary (Cauthers) and Charles Lee Matthews. Brother Eric came along two years later. At some point early on, Mary Matthews decided she didn’t want to be called something as prosaic as Mary, so she combined her first and middle names to form Marylee.
Yes, she had a mind of her own.
Although the Matthews union didn’t last, Sally, a statuesque blonde, found love again with John Caster, a handsome, dark-haired doctor. Marylee was seven and Eric five, when John and Sally married (at right with Marylee and Eric in front). The Casters had a son, Johnny, and the family of five lived a lovely two-story home with a swimming pool on St. Andrews Place in Los Angeles.
Important to say “with a swimming pool” because that became a center for the infamous Caster swimming parties, something Marylee and her raft of friends enjoyed all through junior and senior high.
As Marylee’s brother Eric (at left) said, “During our pre-teen and teen years there always seemed to be friends over to our house. Our [parents] loved to entertain, and as kids we were always part of the party.”
Johnny didn’t need rescuing
“I was in the upstairs bathroom of our old house on St. Andrews, and I turned on the water in the tub and locked the door,” he said. “Marylee freaked out, thinking I would overflow the tub and flood the house. So, she called the fire department who came with a ladder to reach up to the bathroom window.”
Thus Johnny—who didn’t need it—was rescued.
Marylee met Kathy Russell (at left) when both were twelve years old and entering John Burroughs Junior High. The two lived on the same street, just a block and a half apart. Along with their mothers, Sally and Betsy, their major form of transportation, they became inseparable.
In school, they made felt circle skirts in sewing class, ate lunch together, and tried to get out of gym. Their moms drove them to double features at the Wiltern Theatre, where Marylee could devour two Milky Ways, a Coke, and a buttered popcorn without gaining an ounce. They modeled in Assistance League Fashion Shows, ice skated at Pan Pacific, and took ballroom dance classes. Their Betty Crocker chocolate cakes were legendary.
Great, big, teddy-bear John Chipman
Boys didn’t turn serious until Los Angeles High School, where Marylee fell for great, big, teddy-bear John Chipman (at right), whose slow-eyed sexy smile and gentle putdowns were classic. Kathy fell for John’s best friend, Mike “Mouse” Berry (at left). Marylee and Kathy, or Blossom as she was called, donned bobby socks and white bucks, the rage in the 50’s, and wore John’s and Mike’s letterman jackets as if they’d won Pulitzers.
Ernie Laubacher and girlfriend Martha Henderson made it a six-some. They triple-dated at dances, movies, concerts, and the Hollywood Bowl, and ALWAYS stopped for fries and cokes at Scrivener’s Drive-In. Dustin Hoffman, who played piano at parties and went on to star in The Graduate was also a classmate of Marylee’s and went on to graduate with her in 1955.
Summer and Easter vacations at Balboa were spent in the same, rented, gray-shingled house on the bay, Marylee with a friend in tow. Ferry trips to the Fun Zone, chocolate covered bananas, and breakfast at Bob’s Big Boy in town went along with swimming and boating.
But disaster struck on April 19, 1953, when Dr. John Caster died of a heart attack on a wall separating the beach from their house. He was just thirty-seven. His son Johnny was with him at the time; and Marylee and Kathy were returning from breakfast in town when they saw police and paramedics at the scene.
It was an excruciating experience for all.
Everything brightened in the days ahead. Marylee attended USC and eventually realized her dream of marrying John Chipman on Feb. 1, 1957. The wedding at the Wilshire Methodist Church was huge, with five bridesmaids and six groomsmen. A lavish reception followed at the renowned Wilshire Country Club where John’s father was a member.
“It was incredible,” said Eric, also known as Buzzy. “I can assure you, Marylee got the wedding she wanted—not to mention the man she wanted. Marylee, as most all know, could be determined or should I say hardheaded; when she had her mind set on something you could forget trying to change it.”
Marylee could also be extraordinarily loving and generous. Johnny recalls his sister lending him money back in 1970. He had just started his first teaching job and wouldn’t get paid until the end of the month. Married and a dad at the time, Johnny said the matter was further complicated by a cloth diaper that had plugged up the toilet and he lacked money to pay a plumber.
Marylee, as always, came through for it all. “I don’t know what there is about my sister and me and plumbing,” he said, “but I certainly appreciated the plumber more than the fire department.”
The Chipmans moved to a home, with a pool, of course, on Rose Street in Burbank. Like everything Marylee did, she treasured that home until the end—all but the remodeling. Early in her marriage, she worked as an assistant in an insurance office, held various roles in the Assistance League, and, for a time, she and John raised and showed Basset Hounds.
Where Kathy and Marylee remained best friends, distance often kept them apart. Another old friend, Pat Lawrence (shown right), became Marylee’s close confidant. The two talked daily on the phone, spent long hours by at the pool, vacationed together, and regularly went to lunch and the movies. The Chipmans also kept close touch with Martha and Ernie Laubacher, who married after high school and live near Carmel, CA.
Her sons changed Marylee’s world
Still, nothing changed Marylee’s world quite like the birth of her two sons, first John Wesley on Oct. 30, 1964, and then Matthew on Aug. 11, 1967. Everything, from then on, revolved around John Wesley, Matthew—and, naturally, Big John.
True, Marylee and her husband had an interesting relationship. If you didn’t know them well, you would tend to think they were often at odds. But Big John had a charm about him, a smiling way of absorbing what could be Marylee’s brusque exterior. Whatever occurred between them, it never dented a genuine love story, one that would endure “…till death do us part.”
It held with their children. A tough task master, however, Marylee kept her sons in line. She demanded that John and Matt study hard, respect their elders, and dress properly.
“My brother and I grew up in an era where it was still safe to walk to a vacant lot, play whiffle ball, tackle football, street hockey, or just about any outdoor activity—just so long as we returned home before dark,” Matt said. “My mom instinctively knew how much independence to allow us, without letting us go too far.”
Marylee sent her boys to a private, church-based, elementary school near their home. Along with reviewing all their homework assignments, she would prepare them incessantly for spelling tests, math quizzes, history assignments, bible study, and more.
“As much as I resisted the work,” Matthew said, “she let me know how proud she was when I actually won a few spelling bees.” If the boys ever received anything but an ‘A’ on report cards, however, they were destined to spend long hours of homework reviews until they brought that grade up.
Along with encouraging her sons to play any sport they wanted, Marylee volunteered for everything possible, always taking the lead role as classroom parent or sport’s team mom. “I didn’t always appreciate having my mom there,” Matt said, “but looking back, it was comforting to know she was there for me and always cared.”
Marylee’s efforts paid off. Both boys majored in business and obtained four-year degrees from USC.
The most cherished memories
In later years, Marylee planned family vacations, including rental of a beach house on Balboa Island, a trip to Leucadia near San Diego, and a road trip adventure around California with a few days in Modesto to visit the Casters.
These vacations were some of Matt’s most cherished memories. John and Marylee also traveled extensively, often to Hawaii and St. Thomas to visit Eric.
As for all the wondrous things Marylee did for her kids and others, she was not exactly the easiest person to warm up to or get along with. Although she went out of her way to welcome her brothers’ and sons’ spouses, one was never sure how she would react when meeting someone new, Matt said. or how she would handle a joke.
The boys always tested the boundaries of the latter. “There was the time she had just re-carpeted the house with the exact, same, dark-green carpet they had previously, and I attached some fake dog poop to my shoe,” Matt said. Once inside the den, he casually exclaimed, “Oh man, I must have tracked this in from outside.”
Then, everyone would just pause and wait … until Marylee was about to explode in fury—then tell her it was fake.
For Marylee’s birthday party a few years back, Amy Chipman, Matt’s wife, selected a hilarious card showing an empty cake stand with just a few crumbs of cake left on it. The note above it said, “The Democrats took your birthday cake.” Before Marylee could even open the card, she stated sourly, “Well that just figures.”
Conservatism served her well
A staunch Republican, Marylee gave generously to support her beliefs and vision for the country. She also contributed to various campaigns and charities, regularly attending events managed by sister-in-law Judy (Levine) Matthews to benefit the CHP 11-99 Foundation.
Marylee’s conservative nature served her well in terms of the family finances, her brother Eric said. “She knew how to get the most out of a dollar and manage household finances, as well as how to invest wisely to build wealth.”
Missing here are the memories of her first-born, John Wesley (shown left), who passed away on Nov. 8, 2019, at the age of fifty-five. Suffice it to say that Matthew speaks for his brother, whose loss Marylee never quite recovered from. No one, much less Marylee, should have to bear the loss of a child.
Way before that, she gloried in her three granddaughters, Lexi, Ashley, and Tiffany— Matt and Amy’s girls. Marylee relished playing endless board games and crossword puzzles with them and taking them to lunch and the movies. Christmas time was eagerly celebrated at Marylee and John’s with big turkey dinners, scads of gifts, and Martinelli’s Sparkling Apple Cider served in crystal goblets. Her love of animals prompted Marylee to keep a box of Milk Bones so she could bring a few to her grandchildren’s current pet.
As Lexi said in her final letter, written in poetic form, “Grandma gave me a lot of things, like a debt free higher education, great Christmas presents, and a lot of memories that took place on green shag carpeting that will forever play in my head to the tune of Frank Sinatra.”
“The greatest gift”
Marylee also bequeathed Lexi something else.
“But the greatest gift you gave me was your ferocity,” she wrote. “Grandma, I promise to protect my family and friends fiercely, to be ferocious in how I stand up for the things I believe, to fight fiercely for the life I want, and above all to love fiercely.”
Preceded in death by her son, John Wesley, Marylee is survived by her adoring husband, John Chipman, brother Eric Matthews and his wife Judy, brother John Caster and his wife Karen, son Matt Chipman and wife Amy, and granddaughters Lexi, Ashley, and Tiffany. Also two nephews, Sean and Peter Caster, John’s sons.
Marylee was laid to rest at Forest Lawn in a picturesque location of her choosing. There were an abundance of flowers and speeches, and all in attendance were deeply moved. Guests were provided with a pearl embossed program and sent home with bottles of Marylee’s favorite Sparkling Cider, labeled in her honor, and finished with a deep, red ribbon and printed Memorial Card.
Bishop Thomas, who spoke at her service, said Marylee and John frequently attended his church, always sat in the same spot, and were impeccably dressed. May she rest in eternal peace with the knowledge that she lives on in our hearts.