Arlington Heights author, columnist, local historian Margery Frisbie dies at 98

The mother of eight joked her professional career didn’t fully get underway until she was 70.

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Margery Frisbie, an author, a columnist, a public relations expert, a scientist, a poet, an amateur pilot and mother of eight, died Sunday of natural causes at her Arlington Heights home at age 98.

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When Margery Frisbie of Arlington Heights set up a signing event for her latest book in 1991 at the U.S. Catholic Bookstore in downtown Chicago and asked for 200 copies to be on hand, a doubtful store representative asked her if she didn’t think she was going out on a limb.

The book, “An Alley in Chicago: The Ministry of a City Priest,” drew such a large crowd the title set a sales record at the store. A commemorative edition was published in 2002.

Mrs. Frisbie, who also was a columnist, a public relations expert, a scientist, a poet and an amateur pilot, died Sunday of natural causes at her Arlington Heights home, surrounded by family. She was 98.

Born in Geneva as Margery Rowbottom, near where her extended family owned a foundry, Mrs. Frisbie moved to Chicago in eighth grade. She attended high school at St. Scholastica Academy in Rogers Park, where she was class president. She majored in biology and graduated in 1944 from Mundelein College, which subsequently became part of Loyola University Chicago. After graduating, she worked as a researcher for Magnaflux in Chicago, which tested for fatigue cracks in airplane engines. She recalled how, whenever she tried to quit, her boss would secure a raise for her.

An amateur pilot, she flew a Piper Cub she co-owned with fellow employees at Magnaflux out of the former Sky Harbor Airport in Northbrook.

After Magnaflux, Mrs. Frisbie worked as a chemist at a Chicago chemical company, where she invented an ink for checks that could be not be erased. She left her chemistry career in 1948 to become head of public relations at Mundelein College. She also hosted a radio show on the former Chicago radio station WAAF.

In 1950, she married Richard Frisbie, a Chicago Daily News reporter whom she met when he came to write a story about the well-known defected Soviet spy, Elizabeth Bentley, whom Mundelein had hired to teach social studies. In 1954, the couple moved to Arlington Heights. Richard Frisbie, her husband of 68 years, died in 2018. The couple had eight children.

Daughter Ellen Frisbie recalled her mother as a warm presence who took an interest in everyone.

“So many of our childhood friends said the one place they always felt truly welcome was making honey toast at our kitchen table,” Ellen Frisbie said. 

Early in their marriage, Mrs. Frisbie was a co-writer with her husband of the column Family Front for Marriage magazine, published by Abbey Press. The couple also wrote The Cana Couplet, a newsletter for the Cana Conference, a marriage education program. She was children’s book editor for the National Catholic Reporter and wrote a weekly column for the Archdiocese of Chicago’s newspaper, The New World, for six years. Following that, she wrote a local history column for 19 years for the Daily Herald, which she gave up in 2016 when her eyesight began to fail.

She also found time to contribute articles to magazines and newspapers and was a prolific writer of letters to the editor at local newspapers, including the Chicago Sun-Times. Former Gov. Pat Quinn was so impressed with her letters he stopped to have his photo taken with her as he walked past her house in the 2014 Arlington Heights Fourth of July parade.

In the early 1990s, Mrs. Frisbie took a job as a public relations specialist for the Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village, which increased her earnings. She joked that her career didn’t get fully underway until she was 70.

Both Mrs. Frisbie and Richard Frisbie, a longtime member of the Arlington Heights Memorial Library board, were social justice advocates and well-known figures in the community. In 2007, they were grand marshals of the village’s Fourth of July parade. Mrs. Frisbie served on numerous commissions, including as president of Northwest Community Services; as a member of the Board of Councilors for Alexian Brothers Medical Center, and as chairperson of the Family Life Commission of the National Council of Catholic Women.

Echoing Mrs. Frisbie’s philosophy, granddaughter Clare Malone said, “The last thing she said to me was, ‘Go change the world, Clare.’”

Besides “An Alley in Chicago” (Sheed & Ward, 1991), which former U.S. Senator Paul Simon, D-Ill., called a “fascinating story of a fascinating priest and courageous public servant,” she co-authored “The Do-It-Yourself Parent” (Sheed & Ward, 1963) with Richard Frisbie. She also wrote “Help Your Child Enjoy Books (Abbey Press, 1964); “This Bookish Inclination” (Friends of the Arlington Library, 1987); “How Beautiful Upon the Prairie” (First United Methodist Church, 1988), and five other titles. A video reading of her recently discovered unpublished manuscript “Every Third House,” a book about a child struggling with her mother’s mental illness, is available on YouTube, presented by her son-in-law Matt Binns.

In the early 1980s, Mrs. Frisbie led protests in favor of a nuclear weapons freeze, which included a march at a Nike missile base in Arlington Heights, where protesters braved military snipers on a nearby roof. She wrote to former President George W. Bush every day for a month advising him not to invade Iraq. She was such a prolific writer to government officials that when her granddaughter Abby Lantz was a Senate intern reading constituent mail, she opened a letter written by her grandmother.

Mrs. Frisbie also enjoyed cultivating her large vegetable garden.

She is also survived by children Felicity Frisbie, Anne Malone, Sun-Times editorial writer Thomas Frisbie, Paul Frisbie, Patrick Frisbie, Teresa Frisbie and Margaret Frisbie, 12 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

A wake will be held from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Lauterburg-Oehler Funeral Home, 2000 E. Northwest Hwy, Arlington Heights. A funeral mass will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at St. James Church, 820 N. Arlington Heights Rd., Arlington Heights.

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