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DOWNEY – Widowed these past five years with the passing of her renowned husband, Jordan, on July 29, 2008, Downey Rotarian Mary Zoe Phillips today continues the work the couple started in 1978, which inspired the Chinese medical authorities in Beijing to recommend (repeatedly) the accomplished doctor and humanitarian for the Nobel Prize.
The couple’s nonprofit corporation, Medical Books for China, furnishes Chinese hospitals as well as medical universities, colleges, and libraries throughout China with donated books and other medical literature.
Originally intended to help rebuild and modernize the all but shattered Chinese medical infrastructure in the wake of the infamous Cultural Revolution under Mao, the books and medical journals have found great utility and relevance today as instruments of literacy and instruction among China’s medical students and practitioners as they strive to achieve English language proficiency as part of a government-mandated, nationwide requirement for a medical license.
The story of how the late Dr. Jordan Phillips, former professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UC-Irvine and popularizer of the revolutionary process of gynecological laparoscopy, and Mary Zoe happened to visit China curious about the state of medicine there after they attended an academic symposium in South Korea and how this turned out to be a life-changing trip is a tale familiar to us by now. This was in 1978.
In another couple of months or so, Mary Zoe hopes to fill another 20-ton container with the medical books/literature for yet another shipment to the port of entry, Tianjin. It will be Medical Books’ 72nd shipment in 35 years.
This has kept Mary Zoe busy. It’s not hard to imagine the amount of correspondence she has to do, what with the sheer number of parties Medical Books has to contact and acknowledge, not to mention the friendships developed over the years, Chinese as well as American. In addition to her routine obligations, she hosts an annual banquet in Chinatown not only to celebrate ties with the local Chinese consular officials but to raise funds for the corporation. She is also a board member of the Los Angeles-Guangzhou Sister Cities Association. She promotes Medical Books all the time.
Her periodic duties at the Rotary meetings as a greeter and leader of the flag salute, I would hazard to say, would be tantamount to a welcome breather.
Mary Zoe Zangrando, an only child of an Italian father and Swedish/Greek mother, was born in Chicago, and graduated from Roosevelt High School. At age 14 or 15, she attended Northwestern University’s Music Institute and started her music studies that normally lead to a bachelor’s degree, while she helped at her family’s restaurant (her father also had a die cast factory during WWII) and modeled from time to time.
Starting out as a budding pianist, she fell in with the formidable cello teacher, Ennio Bolognini, and under his influence she became a cellist. Mary Zoe didn’t stay long enough to get her degree at the institute but she gained possession of her own cello which was autographed by her famous teacher.
Later, it was during the course of her role as a cellist for the Downey Symphony Orchestra, that Yo Yo Ma spotted and wanted to buy for himself Mary Zoe’s cello with Ennio’s signature, but she said no.
There is a parallel story to this: Ennio’s contemporaries and friends included the likes of Ezio Pinza, Jascha Heifetz, Arthur Rubenstein, Vladimir Horowitz, Victor Herbert, Maurice Ravel, Caruso, Puccini, Isaac Stern, Victor Borge, and Liberace, etc. Numbering fifty-one in all, they all autographed his cello on its face. This of course attracted a lot of interested buyers, but Ennio’s widow, who is very much alive, has bequeathed it to the Smithsonian.
In the meantime, Mary Zoe had married a golf pro who was introduced by her father. The marriage lasted ten years, and produced a daughter, Vanessa, who currently lives in New York and works as a freelance writer and editor. (She plays the cello also). Her husband was Tim Page, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, whom she had divorced before his Pulitzer.
In any case, the couple had three offspring: the oldest is about 27 years old and is a member of MENSA. Mary Zoe says he has developed two medicines whose rights were eagerly sought by both Johnson & Johnson and Bausch & Lomb. He is supposed to have spurned these overtures, preferring to keep his patents to himself, at least for now.
The middle one, age 24, is afflicted with Asperger’s syndrome. The youngest, who is 18, is bound for Brown University.
In any case, she met Jordan after she moved to Downey and eventually married him. Thus started the Jordan-Mary partnership which would lead to their living full lives, including extensive travels to every continent and around the world, as well as rendering service through the Downey Rotary (Rotarian Jordan initiated the Rotary’s organ donation program).
Once they went to the South Pole and said hello to some Emperor Penguins. In Mongolia and especially in Yunan, China (which Gen Chenault used as a base for his Flying Tigers during WWII), they were able to observe pandas up close. They’ve had memorable experiences in Thailand, Burma, and the Philippines, among other places. Wherever they went, they bought souvenirs and trinkets and paintings-these now adorn the Phillips home on Gallatin Road as well as the Medical Books’ office/warehouse in Santa Fe Springs. (Mary Zoe used to paint, too, mostly watercolors).
Mary Zoe says she exercises by going up and down the stairs of her house, as well as laying flat on a mat and going through her bicycle exercises. She says she has maintained her supposed ideal weight by doing this and following a Spartan vegetable-rich diet (no sugar or salt, and eggwhites only-no yolk).
She’s an avid reader as well, with her house littered with reading material of all kinds — on every conceivable subject.
Published: April 25, 2013 – Volume 12 – Issue 02