In Memoriam: Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans (1920-2012)

Mary Semans, the great-granddaughter of Washington Duke, the industrialist and philanthropist for whom Duke University is named, served on the board of trustees at Duke University for 20 years. She died earlier this month at the age of 91.

“Mary Semans occupied a unique place in the life of this university,” said Duke University President Richard H. Brodhead. “She was our principal link to Duke’s founding generation and continued her family’s tradition of benevolence throughout her life. She supported every good thing at this university, and she was a powerful force for good in Durham and the Carolinas.”

Semans grew up in Manhattan but at age 14 moved to Durham, North Carolina, to live with her grandmother, Sarah P. Duke. She enrolled at the university at the age of 15 and graduated in 1939. She married twice, both times to surgeons and faculty members at Duke’s medical school.

Throughout her life, Semans devoted her time to philanthropy and the arts. She was awarded honorary degrees from Davidson College, North Carolina Central University, Elon University, Campbell University, Pfeiffer University, North Carolina Wesleyan University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She is survived by seven children, 16 grandchildren, and 29 great-grandchildren.

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