published Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Mary Cody has a new home

Betty White, owner ProLex Medical Services, talks with Mary Cody on Monday afternoon in Cody's new home. Cody will eventually have a roommate, and will have a full-time attendant.
Betty White, owner ProLex Medical Services, talks with Mary Cody on Monday afternoon in Cody's new home. Cody will eventually have a roommate, and will have a full-time attendant.
Photo by Angela Lewis.
  • photo
    Nancy Rus, right, and Mary Cody cross 10th Street on their way to the Pickle Barrel, where Cody wants to thank employees for being kind to her while she stayed on a park bench outside of the business.
    Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Marilyn "Mary" Cody went home this week.

Home to her new home. Her own home.

And she cried.

"It's very beautiful. It's a miracle. I'm so happy," she said.

Mary Cody is the mentally retarded, epileptic and partially paralyzed woman who spent months homeless on the streets of Chattanooga late last year and the first half of 2011 until she was taken in by Nancy Rus, a retired organizational psychologist.

"When I was on the street, people walked by me and wouldn't even see me. Wouldn't speak," Mary said. "But Nancy did. She talked to me. And she helped me get my home."

Rus sat cross-legged on the floor in Mary's home with its terra-cotta walls, red accents and mountain stone details. She smiled at Mary, who sat in her brand new recliner.

In another chair, Betty White, executive director and owner of ProLex Medical Services Inc., told Mary the home -- one of 17 owned by the company in and around Chattanooga for 33 intellectually challenged adults -- was recently remodeled just for her.

"What do you like best?" White asked.

"The colors. The views," Mary said. "I know God gave me this special gift."

Then White cried, too, telling Mary they share similar spirits.

  • photo
    Richard Auten administers tests to Mary Cody in the Team Centers, Inc. offices to determine her comprehension levels.
    Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

"You're all I've talked about for so long," White said.

In the back of the room, Jackie Brown, Mary's new caretaker, wiped away a tear, too.

Eventually, Mary will have two housemates -- another mentally challenged woman who will live upstairs with her and a "high-functioning" developmentally challenged man who will live in a basement apartment. The three will have an around-the-clock caregiver.

White, a former special education teacher and director of nursing for Orange Grove, started ProLex Medical Services Inc. in her den nearly 10 years ago. The company also handles homemaker services for the elderly in several area counties.

"These are not group homes, these are individuals' homes, and this is Mary's home," White said. "And this is not a business, this is a person's home. We're here to help manage it because they can't."

Mary's Social Security supplemental disability will help pay her rent. And she will receive other services, such as physical therapy and medical care for her epilepsy, through TennCare.

Rus, 64, has been championing Mary since early July, when she found her on the street after a July 4th concert downtown.

Over the course of that month and into August, Rus took Mary, who is 54, to first one, then another and another local social service agency in the Chattanooga area. At each, Rus sought help for a woman who couldn't advocate for herself and who had been lost to her family for more than 20 years.

  • photo
    Betty White, owner ProLex Medical Services, center, hugs Mary Cody Monday afternoon in Cody's new home as caretaker Jackie Brown, left, looks on. Cody will eventually have a roommate, and will have a full-time attendant.
    Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Initially turned away by many of those agencies because Mary didn't fit a prescribed criteria or because Mary has occasional anger outbursts, Rus finally chose to become her own crisis rescue service. She put Mary up in a hotel at her own expense.

Finally, after yet another rejection in mid-August, Mary wound up at Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute for a mental evaluation.

Rus eventually found Mary's family, and her elderly mother helped cement the medical history that finally brought a real diagnosis of mental retardation to get Mary out of Moccasin Bend and into a home for the intellectually challenged.

The Chattanooga Homeless Coalition helped Rus pay some of Mary's hotel costs, but much of what Rus spent -- more than $5,000, she said -- she now just calls "my charity."

By the time Mary was in Moccasin Bend, Rus didn't want just a diagnosis. She wanted a happy ending. For Rus, that "happy ending" didn't just mean a temporary shelter, it meant a solution -- a home.

"It makes me feel special," Mary said from her new home.

"Thank you," she told Rus. "And thank you," she told White.

about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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sandyonsignal said...

This is a relief. Thank you, Betty White, I hope she makes the list for our town's Sheroes. She deserves it. Such a blessing.

October 19, 2011 at 6:57 a.m.
chatttn said...

Many thanks to you, Betty White. This world needs more like you. God bless you and Mary.

October 19, 2011 at 10:43 a.m.
snodancer said...

Thanks to Nancy Rus for taking the time to be an advocate for Mary. Thanks for even noticing Mary, and doing doing something to help her improve her condition in life. We each see people all the time that need a helping hand, but just look the other way, Thank You Nancy! Best of Luck Mary---Have a Wonderful Life!

October 19, 2011 at 1:47 p.m.
NoMyth said...

It is wonderful that Mary is being looked after and now has some pleasant living conditions. We all need to be more cognizant of those that are not able to manage their own affairs, particularly those who have been challenged from birth, or due to illness, or old age. Our society must do a better job to help people like Mary that deserve our support. It starts with you and me doing something about it. Fortunately, Nancy Rus and Betty White have already started doing something and it has made all the difference. I hope to read a follow-up story on Mary in the coming years.

October 19, 2011 at 9:34 p.m.
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