Shawnee Mission Faces: Mary Lee Gilchrist, local author and one of the eight Sosebees of Fairway

Mary Lee GilchristGrowing up in Fairway, Mary Lee Sosebee (now Gilchrist) remembers a rambunctious, playful childhood with her seven brothers and sisters. But tragedy fell on their family after an accidental shooting in 1976 that paralyzed her father, Ralph. He eventually succumbed to his injuries at age 46, leaving her mother, Carolyn, to raise eight children on her own. She also lost her mother and mother-in-law 10 years ago; in between, her family dealt with severe health complications and a job layoff. Gilchrist chronicled her experiences in a book, “Surviving Sosebee,” which she published on Dec. 9, 2017, her father’s birthday. She has sold more than 250 copies in 15 months. She lives in Olathe with her husband, Rick Gilchrist.

My father had an accident when I was young. I was 14. It was truly an accident; it was a ricocheted bullet, it ricocheted and came back and went through his brain. So it killed half his brain.

Finding him at 14 years old, and I’ve had a ton of therapy to get me to be able to say that out loud without crying.

He died just shy a month of my 16th birthday. He lived 19 months as a handicap, and he still made an impact on my life even though he was unable to teach or educate us.

The hardest part was the anxiety that went with having one parent and watching her struggle to do everything she did, and she did it well.

I think the other struggle is that my husband never knew my father, and really one of the other things I struggled probably with is the fact that my children do not have their grandparents, and they’re 31 and 35. And there’s some people who have their great-grandparents.

Blessings is what makes my life easy. We count our blessings every day. There are over 100 immediate family members of my family. I have one brother that had 10 kids. I have over 32 nieces and nephews. Out of over a hundred, we’ve only lost four: My mom, my dad, one nephew died on his 20th birthday from motorcycle wreck, and my niece died at 39 of brain cancer. Those four are in heaven. The rest of us are right here.

My mother, being the backbone of the family — who gave me my backbone — she may not have taught us the simple things in life, like, do you have homework tonight? But she sure made sure we learned the things to survive, which is why my book is called “Surviving Sosebee.” She taught us to survive life.

The book is primarily written on a lesson plan on life. There are chapters about people that have been in my life, impacted my life. Where a teacher can write their next lesson plan, we can’t write our next lesson plan on life.

She taught us to survive everything that was thrown at us. I have, and I’m going to continue. I’m sure there’s way more hard lessons in my life. You can’t predict your next lesson in life because we don’t know our next lesson, because life can change in a minute, a second.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct an error. Gilchrist’s father was in an accidental shooting in 1976, not 1978.