Marion Carolyn Naifeh was born April 11, 1928, in Wuhu, China, the daughter of American missionaries. Her father B.W. Lanphear worked for the Episcopal Church; her mother Carolyn March Lanphear, for the Y.W.C.A. Marion died May 20, 2023, at the age of 95, at her home in Aiken, South Carolina, with her two children by her side.
She is predeceased by her husband, George A. Naifeh, a U.S. diplomat and champion of social justice; their son Roger, who died at birth; her son-in-law Gregory White Smith; and her 16 Chinese brothers, young boys abandoned by poverty-stricken farmers at the Episcopal health clinic next to her father’s school and raised as B.W,’s sons. Her two main worlds — China and the U.S. — connected for the first time when the Naifeh family of four visited Wuhu in 1993 and met her seven brothers who were still living. With her husband George holding her left hand and her brother George holding her right, Marion was wholly content.
Marion attended high school in Worcester, Massachusetts, living with her aunt and uncle while her father was interred in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Shanghai. Her mother had died just two months after her birth. Marion graduated summa cum laude from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. She spent her junior year abroad in Mexico, which gave her a lifelong love for Mexican art, literature, and music. In 1949 she began her studies in Latin American Economics at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). It was there that she met her husband, George Naifeh. After completing their studies, they moved from Washington, D.C., to Mashhad, Iran, for George’s first assignment as a diplomat and the first chapter in their lives together, of which nearly 30 years were spent overseas: in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, and Jordan. Marion impacted lives in all those countries, where she taught everything from literacy to graduate school. She impacted lives from many other countries teaching English as a Second Language, first at Georgetown University and then at SAIS. She wrote several books: The Last Missionary in China, Foreign Service, and Finding my Mother: The Red Box. She viewed life as a great adventure and lived it with a love for learning and respect for people of all religions, nationalities, and ethnicities.
She is survived by her son Steven Naifeh of Aiken, South Carolina, and her daughter Carolyn Naifeh of Nashville, Tennessee, as well as by her “second” son Esteban Negrete, her beloved March-Mabry-Clark maternal relatives, and many nieces and nephews.
A celebration of life service is scheduled for 2:00 pm at St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church in Aiken on Tuesday, May 23. In lieu of flowers, Marion would have appreciated donations to Our Place Nashville (www.ourplacenashville.org), which provides affordable housing to adults with developmental disabilities.
SHELLHOUSE FUNERAL HOME, INC., 924 HAYNE AVE., AIKEN, SC
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