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James Duke Biddle Trent Semans

Posted By Hall-Wynne On December 19, 2018 @ 1:41 pm In Durham,Obituaries | 13 Comments

James Duke Biddle Trent Semans

10 Dec. 1957—17 Dec. 2018

Death loves a shining mark.— Edward Young (1683-1765)

James Semans, 61, of Chapel Hill died Monday morning.

James was the husband of Margaret W. Rich; son of the late Dr. James Hustead Semans and Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans of Durham: and great-grandson of Benjamin Duke.

He attended grammar school at Durham Academy and is a graduate of the Hill School in Pottstown, PA. After a stint at Oberlin College, James took some accounting courses at NYU and went to work.

Most notably James worked to restore the Duke family home, built in 1899, at 1009 Fifth Ave. in New York City, until it was sold in 2006. For their efforts, James and his mother were presented with the 1985 Restoration Award by the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts. The award was for: “Outstanding restoration of a family residence by the descendants of the original owner, thus ensuring the survival of a significant structure which is part of Fifth Avenue’s past.”

In the early eighties, James came home to Durham to assist with the care of his mother’s historic property in Forest Hills, as well as to serve on the board of the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation beginning in 1992. For the past 30 years he has also served on the Duke-Semans Fine Arts Foundation and the Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans Foundation.

James is predeceased by his sister, Jenny Koortbojian, and survived by his sisters: Beth Semans Hubbard and her husband, Michael, of Los Angeles, California; Mary Trent Jones and her husband, Jim, of Abingdon, Virginia; Sarah Trent Harris of Charlotte, North Carolina; Dr. Rebecca Trent Kirkland and her husband, Dr. John Kirkland, of Pittsboro, North Carolina, and Hood River, Oregon; and  Barbara Trent Kimbrell and her husband Mac, of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. He was also a devoted stepfather to Gibson Rich, of Hillsborough, North Carolina and Mary Hill, of Asheville, North Carolina as well as a true friend to a wide range of people throughout the community.

A memorial service will be held at Duke Chapel Tuesday, 15 January 2019, at 2:00 pm.

Reception to follow.

In lieu of flowers, contributions in James’s memory may be made to the charity or the Democrat of your choice.

The Semans family is under the care of Hall-Wynne Funeral Service. Online condolences: www.hallwynne.com – select obituaries.


Condolences for the family of “James Duke Biddle Trent Semans”

Condolence from Peg Palmer on December 20th, 2018 10:20 am

Dear Margaret, and Semans Family,
James will be missed and I have such sadness that he is not here for the next chapter of the place he loved. Here’s hope you can remember all your family who have passed and celebrate their lives during this time. James always was caring and affectionate toward me, and my children remember his love of trains and kindness to them as well. We are thinking of James and Margaret and all of you and wish you the best, sending our deepest sympathy for your loss.
PegPalmerWears, Anna and Will Wears

Condolence from NEEM on December 20th, 2018 10:28 am

I wanted to pass my heartfelt condolences to the family. James was an outstanding individual and an asset to Durham in keeping with the Semans family. He will be sorely missed but with you in spirit.

Condolence from Elizabeth “Rosa” Arnold on December 21st, 2018 10:27 am

Beth, Margaret,
James was one of the best humans ever and this planet was a better place because of him. So intelligent so kind and so generous. My heart aches for this loss and yet I know he is no longer aching. I am sending you both love and light and hoping you can get through these days and years with out the weight of loss being unbearable. His smile will now be permanent.

Condolence from Brenda Pollard on December 22nd, 2018 12:58 pm

Thoughts and prayers to Margaret , family, and friends.

James was a kind, thoughtful, and community minded person. He will be greatly missed for his passion for preservation, history, and love of North Carolina.

Larry and I always enjoyed our “special” time with him. He was a true friend to everyone.

Condolence from Jane Wilson on December 23rd, 2018 11:26 am

Margaret and family. Thinking of you.
With sympathy, Cousin Jane and Mike

Condolence from Jane Wilson on December 23rd, 2018 11:30 am

Margaret and family,
Thinking of you. With sympathy.
Cousin Jane and Mike

Condolence from Art Stetson on December 24th, 2018 4:12 am

James and I were classmates and Cross Country teammates at The Hill School. He was a very nice and genuine guy, a true gentleman. I only saw him once after we graduated, maybe ten years out of Hill. We lunched in NYC. He seemed to be content with his life and happy in his work. I left that lunch feeling good about the person he had become, and happy for him. Jim, may you rest in peace.

Condolence from Shirley A Mueller on December 28th, 2018 2:32 pm

We are greatly saddened by the news of James’s early passing. James was committed to his family and work for as long as I knew him (25 years). He was always kind, compassionate and hard working. Our deepest condolences to all the family.

Condolence from Mark Flanders on January 1st, 2019 1:53 pm

Margaret, Beth, and family, I was very sorry to learn of James’ passing. His affectionate and thoughtful nature will be missed. I always looked forward to seeing him, no matter how brief the visit. His foundation work is a legacy that has improved and will continue to improve the lives of so many.

Condolence from Dr. Elaine Crovitz on January 6th, 2019 1:00 pm

I was deeply saddened to learn of the too early death of James Semans. He was a classmate and playmate of my son at Durham Academy. He continued his parents’ legacy in an admirable fashion. The growth of the arts and arts education at Duke and in Durham owe a great deal to the Duke-Semans foundations and James’ devotion. Condolences to Beth and all four Trent daughters and their families.

Condolence from Dr. Elaine Crovitz on January 6th, 2019 1:05 pm

I was deeply saddened to learn of the too early death of James Semans. He was a classmate and playmate of my son at Durham Academy. He continued his parents’ legacy in an admirable fashion in growing the arts and arts education at Duke and in Durham, Condolences to Beth and all four Trent daughters and their families.

Condolence from Patti Freeman on January 7th, 2019 7:52 pm

So sorry to hear of this.
I have very fond memories of James.
May I offer my most sincere condolences to
Your family.

Condolence from Ellen Cavitt on January 19th, 2019 3:09 pm

Dear Margaret and the Semans and Trent families – just learning of James death and so sad to hear. Even though our encounter was brief, his kindness extended beyond and I always felt his love for family.

April 4, 2015, we, my mother Virginia Cobb Coupland, my father Richard McIlwaine Coupland and I Ellen Coupland Cavitt, first met James at Pinecrest. As you know, it was built for James Orr Cobb, who was my grandfather. I had contacted James on April 2 to ask if we could have a tour of the home my mother was born in, Pinecrest. He responded enthusiastically, met us that Saturday before Easter and we had a grand visit sharing so many memories. He also approved of me filming the visit but promising not to share and I’ve honored that promise. My mother now has Alzheimer’s and the video still brings smiles. I’d like to share it with you at some point if you are interested please contact me.

Peace be with you all – Ellen Cavitt

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