Final Words: Reflections of a Forensic Pathologist

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Mary Jumbelic Resume


Mary Jumbelic attended Seton High School in Baltimore, Maryland, graduating in 1974. The Daughters of Charity gave her a lot to think about between her favorite class of English with Sister Andrea and her least favorite of Chemistry with Sister Dolores. She worked part-time, evenings and weekends at TASCO, telephone answering service company, just two blocks from school. Highlights from those years include being on the team “It’s Academic” a TV quiz show, volunteering for the Red Cross, and lettering in Library Club.

Mary remained local, choosing University of Maryland Baltimore County to study Biological Sciences. She pursued interests in creative writing, women’s studies, and Spanish. In her sophomore year she landed a job in the research and development division of Martin Marietta Corporation located close to campus and continued to work there studying fish populations in the Chesapeake and sulfur dioxide emissions in St. Croix. 

After graduating Cum Laude in 1979, she went to University of Maryland School of Medicine. She received a Baltimore City Medical Society Scholarship to attend. Four years of academic and clinical experience guided her toward her intern year at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore where she studied General Surgery. She quickly realized this was not her calling though she finished the entire year of service.

In her senior year of medical school, 1983, she had done an elective rotation in forensic pathology at the Baltimore morgue, the same morgue she had visited as a teenager for a high school program. Drawn to the memory of these experiences, she chose pathology as her intended career.  

She did her first autopsies at Union Memorial and the following year transferred to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago where she completed her Anatomic Pathology training. Afterwards she did a fellowship in forensic pathology at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, becoming board certified in both fields. Dr. Stein and Dr. Kirschner mentored her and taught her the discipline and dedication of forensics in the setting of thousands of cases including high levels of gun violence. They emphasized scene investigation as the background to a thorough understanding of the case. She learned detailed autopsy techniques. At afternoon meetings, she discussed her decisions and took part in case debate, preparing her for experience as an expert witness. After fellowship, she worked two years as an Assistant Medical Examiner in the office.

In 1990, Mary and her husband, Marc Safran, moved to Peoria, Illinois. Marc had an opportunity to join a strong ophthalmology practice and Mary brought her forensic pathology expertise to the area. Death investigation in the State of Illinois outside of Chicago is a coroner-based system. The scene details, medical history, and follow-up are done by the coroners, elected officials in local jurisdictions. As the pathologist, Mary did the autopsies and served as coroner’s physician providing them with the cause of death. This was a drastic change of responsibility for her, used to coordinating both aspects of the death investigation. 

As word spread of the new doctor in town, Mary became very busy with cases brought in from a 20-county region. Executions, domestic violence, farming accidents, youth suicides, serial murders populated her gurneys.

Onondaga County, New York was looking for a deputy medical examiner when Marc and Mary were considering their professional options in 1995. Marc had a local opportunity. It felt a good fit. Syracuse became their home. They have raised their children here, been part of the Montessori Learning Center, the F-M school district, and Temple Concord. Mary was promoted to Chief Medical Examiner in 1998 and served until her retirement in 2009. In that capacity she chaired the Child Death Review Team, worked with the NY prison system to evaluate inmate injuries and use of force, wrote over 30 scholarly articles, a majority on injury prevention, and developed an expertise in mass disaster work.

As clinical associate professor of pathology, she taught medical students and residents of Upstate Medical University. She also lectured undergraduates in the department of sociology and criminal justice at LeMoyne College as adjunct professor. She served five years as a member of the test committee for forensic pathology of the American Board of Pathology, writing the questions for future practitioners of this field.

Following her retirement, she has remained active in the forensic world through writing stories of her experiences. Utilizing journals, old newspaper articles, and internet research, she captures the moments that might be lost to time and breathes life into the dead.