Mesothelioma Never Took Sallie Morton’s Smile Away

Sallie Morton

Sallie Morton — as always — did it her way.

Morton was a four-year mesothelioma survivor who died last month, leaving behind an indelible print as a trailblazing pioneer in so many ways.

She never wavered from her live-it-up lifestyle and the way she approached her incurable cancer.

“She’s one gutsy broad,” is how she often described herself, laughing each time she retold the story.

Her celebration of life memorial service was held Nov. 4 at The Terraces of Los Gatos retirement community in California, where she lived the last several years and earned her reputation as a social butterfly.

The service was held in the party room Morton reserved each November for her birthday bash. Her favorite jazz songs played, and the champagne flowed, just how she liked it.

Morton would have turned 92 on Nov. 8.

“I’ve already had as great a life as anyone I could possibly imagine,” she said in 2016. “If I went tomorrow, that would be fine. I’ve had a great ride.”

Morton Declined Traditional Treatment

Morton lived a long and full life, before and after her pleural mesothelioma diagnosis in 2013 at the age of 87.

She opted against the chemotherapy or radiation treatment her doctor suggested — wanting no part of the often uncomfortable side effects — which reduced her prognosis to just six months and a room at the hospice facility.

As always, she showed them.

Morton promptly left hospice and returned to The Terraces, where she resumed her role as unofficial entertainment chairperson, organizing the dances, concerts with kids, and every other social outing she could plan for the community.

And she always did it with a smile.

“I’m always telling people, ‘This calls for a party. Let’s start planning the next one,’” she said. “I’ve always like to celebrate things.”

A Pioneer in Many Ways

Morton was celebrated by many through a life filled with firsts.

During her career as a certified gemologist, she traveled the world while her husband tended their jewelry shop.

Her “gem and study” explorations took her to South Africa, Iran, Sri Lanka, Australia, Burma, Brazil, China and Japan, always searching for the best and brightest gems.

And she often mixed business with places she wanted to see.

Morton became first female president of the American Gem Society (AGS), serving as national spokesperson and lecturing in all 50 states during her tenure.

In 2014, the AGS inaugurated an annual Sallie Morton Guild Award, given to individuals who have gone over and above in their service to the AGS Guilds.

She was part of the first group of women ever invited to join the Rotary Club of San Jose, making her presence felt quickly in a leadership role. Morton was also one of the first women invited to join the San Jose Toastmasters Club.

Morton Loved Seeing the World

She retired from the jewelry business, but she never slowed her pace, volunteering for multiple causes.

Morton worked for the National Lymphedema Network, the Santa Clara Girl Scout Council and the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Gatos.

She bought a 28-foot Bounder recreational vehicle, which she drove around North America, logging 84,000 miles. She also formed the Bounder Singles Club and was active in various motor home organizations.

Even in her final year, she remained as engaging and energetic as a person could be with a debilitating cancer.

She never lost the zest for life.

“I’ve been lucky,” she said. “Being in the jewelry business is one reason for the positive outlook. You don’t see sad people in a jewelry store. They are always happy. And that stuck with me.”


Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His specialty is interviewing top mesothelioma specialists and researchers, reporting the latest news at mesothelioma cancer centers and talking with survivors and caregivers.

  1. Bates, R. (2017, November 1). Sallie Morton Dies. Retrieved from https://www.jckonline.com/editorial-article/sallie-morton-dies/

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