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SIOUX CITY -- Every time she came to visit Marguerite Cordice, Rhonda Capron was called a "celebrity."

"After I told Marguerite I'm on the Sioux City City Council, she recognized me from TV," Capron, a City Council member who also owns Rhonda's Senior Support Services, explained in a Monday morning interview with the Journal. "From that day forward, I was a celebrity in her eyes."

But it was Cordice who had a life that deserved to be celebrated.

Cordice, the widow of John Walter Vincent Cordice Jr., the surgeon credited for saving the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. following a 1958 assassination attempt, died Jan. 17 in Sioux City, at the age of 97.

"Incredibly, Marguerite's funeral (at St. Thomas Episcopal Church) took place Monday, or the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.," Capron said. "There may not have been a Martin Luther King Day had it not been for Dr. Cordice.

"The civil rights movement may have changed forever had Martin Luther King Jr. died 10 years earlier," she added.

Capron remembered her friend Monday night while speaking at Sioux City's Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ.

On Sept. 20, 1958, King was attacked by a woman wielding a paper knife in Harlem. A medical team that included Aubre Maynard, Farrow Allen and Cordice, the chief surgeon, operated on King.

One of the most acclaimed African-American surgeons of his time, Cordice subsequently became the subject of "When Harlem Nearly Killed King," a 2002 book written by investigative journalist Hugh Pearson.

It was when Cordice was working at New York's Harlem Hospital that he met his future wife, the former Marguerite Smith, who was a hospital administrator. The two were married in New Jersey in 1948.

"As soon as you heard Marguerite's voice, you knew she was a New Yorker," explained Capron, who first met Cordice in 2018. "She was proud of it."

Cordice was also proud of her celebrated husband, who died in 2014 at age 95, as well as their three daughters, including Michelle, who moved to Sioux City as a Morningside College student and married George Boykin, a Sioux City civil rights leader and a 30-year member of the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors.

Both John and Marguerite Cordice retired to Sioux City many years ago to be close to family.

"Marguerite was very modest and respectful of her family's role in civil rights," Capron said. "Family meant everything to her."

Capron said Cordice was able to say goodbye to her three daughters, three grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild before her death.

"Marguerite was as sharp as a tack right until the end," Capron said. "She died the same way she lived: with dignity and love in heart.

"It was because of Dr. Cordice that MLK survived a stabbing in 1958," Capron said. "The civil rights movement would've changed forever had MLK died on Cordice's operating table."

And what about Capron's late-in-life friend?

"I will always remember Marguerite Cordice and I know she was greeted by some wonderful people in heaven."

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