Mary Elizabeth Gaither was born in Alton, Indiana on May 1, 1917 to Cleo V. Gaither and Eva McClain Gaither. She died on May 4, 2018, at the age of 101. She moved to Louisville, Kentucky at age four. She was educated in the Louisville public school system and graduated from the University of Louisville in 1938. She taught high school English in the Louisville public schools for five years before enlisting, over her father's objection, in the WAVES, the women's branch of the United States Naval Reserve. She recalled that he responded by saying that, "at least she had joined the Navy and not the Army". She served in World War II from 1943-1946 as Ensign and Lieutenant. She was assigned to the Pentagon, where she served as Top Secret Control Officer and administered a military and civilian staff of eight. After the war, she returned to the University of Louisville as an English instructor and completed her master's degree in English Literature. She continued her education at Indiana University, receiving a Ph.D. in the, at the time, brand new field of comparative literature. Doctor Gaither taught courses in both the Department of English and the Department of Comparative Literature and made valuable contributions to both departments. Her scholarly and teaching interests focused on 20th century British fiction, with a particular interest in the history of the Hogarth Press of Leonard and Virginia Woolf. She served as Director of Undergraduate Advising in both the English and Comparative Literature Departments. She developed an expertise in high school English curriculum, worked as a liaison with the School of Education, and gained a state-wide reputation as a consultant and speaker on high school English curriculum. She was the Director of Children's Literature from 1954 to 1970. She also served as an Associate Dean in the Graduate School. Doctor Gaither retired from Indiana University in 1982, having provided decades of service to the University.
Doctor Gaither continued to be an active citizen of Bloomington during her retirement, volunteering for Planned Parenthood, Meals on Wheels, the Waldron Art Center, the Lilly Library and the Kinsey Institute. She maintained her social contacts with the English Department and, to her great pleasure, developed many lasting friendships with younger faculty members after her retirement. She continued to participate in a women's literary criticism discussion group for many years. She travelled the world, gave memorable dinner parties and maintained a large group of friends. She especially enjoyed the fine arts—she collected paintings, pottery and sculpture and she regularly attended concerts and the theatre in Bloomington. She was an extraordinarily generous and gregarious sister, aunt, friend, colleague and patron of the arts. She will be fondly remembered for her barbed wit, ready laughter and her example of a life thoroughly well-lived. She was remarkable.
Professor Gaither was preceded in death by her husband, George E. Hadley of Louisville, Kentucky, and her four siblings, her older brother, Fielden Gaither, and three younger sisters, Anne Dougherty of Louisville, Kentucky, Georgia Osborne of Lawrenceville, Georgia, and Ruth Miskell of Daytona Beach, Florida. She is survived by her nieces and nephews, Tim Miskell of Maitland, Florida, Laurie Dougherty Mills, of Louisville, Kentucky, Jane Miskell Owens of Louisville, Kentucky, Joe Dougherty of Louisville, Kentucky, Carol Dougherty Leverenz, of Seal Beach, California, Jeffrey Osborne of Buford, Georgia, and Jim Miskell of Johns Creek, Georgia.