Mary Burns Melson – Richardson, TX
Navy veteran, nurse and family matriarch Mary Burns Melson, 99, died on November 4, 2023 in Dallas.
Mary was born at Highland Hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana, to parents Perry and Ura Belle Burns.
She grew up in a loving home on leafy Ockley Drive with sister Marjorie and brother Morris in the Broadmoor neighborhood of Shreveport, and attended A.C. Steere School and Byrd High School.
After she finished high school, her family moved to Danville, Virginia, where she began classes at Averett College. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Mary wanted to enlist but was not old enough, so she volunteered with the Red Cross and Travelers’ Aid.
Mary enlisted in the United States Navy on her 20th birthday in 1944, attended boot camp in New York and became a Specialist (T) Second Class with the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). She was assigned to Beaufort Naval Air Station in South Carolina and trained as an instructor on the Link Celestial Navigation Trainer, one of the first flight simulators available to Navy pilots, and a primary tool for equipping thousands of pilots with crucial skills they needed during the war.
In this role, she trained many new pilots, but one in particular drew her attention: Robert D. “Don” Melson. Since instructors and officers were not supposed to fraternize, she and Don soon began a courtship in secret, aided by a chaplain at the base who allowed them to talk in his office and at church where Don, an organist, was able to practice.
Mary and Don married in uniform at a relative’s home in Statesville, NC, on December 7, 1945, and she received her honorable discharge several weeks later on December 28. The couple moved to Don’s hometown of Haddonfield, New Jersey, and ultimately settled in neighboring Delaware Township (now Cherry Hill). Their first son, Robert D. (“Bob”) Jr., was followed by four more children, Mark, Bruce, Carolyn and Mimi.
Mary was an active homemaker and volunteer in the community for many years until she went back to school in her late 40s and received her certification as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). She found fulfilling work as a nurse at several medical offices in Camden County for a number of years.
In the 1970s, Mary developed an interest in cross-stitch embroidery, and soon became very involved in the craft, creating many beautiful pieces that adorned her walls (and now the homes of her children and grandchildren), each one marked in the corner with her initials and the year it was stitched.
In 1985, Mary and Don retired, and later moved to Shreveport so Mary could be closer to her siblings and help care for her mother. Once back in her hometown, Mary was active at First Presbyterian Church, and volunteered regularly with Meals On Wheels, Highland Hospital and as a tutor at her local elementary school.
Beginning in her 90s, as one of a small group of still-living World War II veterans, Mary was honored for her military service during Navy Week at Barksdale Air Force Base, in several Veterans Day ceremonies and in local news reports.
In May 2017, at age 93, Mary was chosen to take part in Heroes Flight, a program sponsored by grocery chain Brookshire’s that honored veterans for their service with a trip to Washington, D.C. The group visited war memorials, the Capitol, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery.
She was proud that her tradition of Navy service continued in the family through her granddaughter CTT2 Geneva Spreen, currently on active duty. In retirement she also enjoyed sewing, family genealogy, her collection of dolls, patriotic music and events, hearing about family accomplishments and anything with the color yellow.
Mary was preceded in death by her parents, her husband of 65 years, Don, her brother Morris and her great-grandson Andrew. She is survived by her sister Marjorie of Richardson, TX, her children Bob (Sharon) of Wernersville, PA, Mark (Judy) of Richardson, TX, Bruce (Kathy) of Cherry Hill, NJ, Carolyn (Ken) of Clearwater, FL, and Mimi (Brian) of Weatherford, TX, along with grandchildren Laurie (Eric) and Lindsay (Chris) of Sinking Spring, PA, Alan (Emily) of Richardson, TX, Liz (Brian) of Loveland, CO, Josh (Kate) of Toms River, NJ, Adam (Lizz) of Moorestown, NJ, Daniel of Orlando, FL, Kimberly of Tampa, FL, and Geneva of Weatherford, TX, along with 15 great-grandchildren.
Funeral Services will be held out of state.
In lieu of flowers, please make a donation in her memory to Shriners Hospitals for Children-Shreveport at https://www.shrinerschildrens.org/en/locations/shreveport.