Cover photo for Mary Rowland Robinson's Obituary
Mary Rowland Robinson Profile Photo

Mary Rowland Robinson

d. March 30, 2020

Mary Rowland Robinson, 92, of Durham, N.C., passed away Monday, March 30, 2020, following complications from surgery.

Born in Ashtabula, Ohio on May 23, 1927 to Russell and Helen (Price) Robinson, Mary graduated from Ashtabula High School in 1945, where she was the Dart yearbook co-editor and active in Girl Scouts, which started a life-long love of camping and campfire songs. In 2002, she was selected to the Ashtabula City Schools Hall of Fame honoring alumni for outstanding lifetime achievements.

Mary spent her undergraduate years at Duke University in Durham, participating in many organizations including Delta Gamma sorority, and was deeply honored to be invited into Duke’s White Duchy leadership society, which selected only seven women annually. For the rest of her life, she proudly wore Duke blue and voraciously cheered on her Blue Devils.

After college, Mary accepted a job as Special Services Director for the US Army in post-war Germany, managing service clubs and recreational activities for GIs in Bremerhaven and Heidelberg. After a brief stint as Director of YWCA at West Virginia University, Mary returned to school to pursue a master degree in education at Columbia University in New York City, then moved west to be Assistant Dean of Women at Oregon State University, and later Dean of Women at Eastern Washington University.

Her life was forever changed when she was hired as Dean of Women at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon (AUB) in 1960. In her decade-long tenure, which included the Arab-Israeli “Six Day War,” she was known for her advocacy for women, making substantial progress toward the goal of fostering successful, independent female students. She worked tirelessly with the University to ensure female students, staff and faculty were treated equitably. In 2016, Mary was honored by AUB as a “History Maker” at its 150th anniversary celebration at the United Nations. Mary was fascinated with the Middle East, immersed herself in its culture and traditions, and traveled extensively, often with Beirut College for Women professor Sara Steensland, who quickly became her dearest friend. She savored all those rich experiences for the rest of her life and maintained deep bonds with her co-workers, students, and Middle East friends.

Mary spent the next two decades at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., serving in leadership roles in Student Affairs, Continuing Education, Academic Administration and completing her career as Associate Vice President for Human Resources. During her time at Western, she was selected by the US Department of State and American Association of University Women to participate in an exchange with Sierra Leone, was awarded a Fulbright International Educator’s Award to Germany and pursued advance studies at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

An enthusiastic and passionate volunteer, Mary held leadership positions on local boards of the YWCA, United Way, and numerous health and credit union organizations. She was proud to be one of the first women to join Bellingham’s Rotary International Club. More recently, Mary served as a hospice volunteer, warmly offering companionship and comfort.

In 2012, Mary moved back to Durham, treasuring her time with family and friends, joining the Congregation of Duke University Chapel, and enjoying lectures, opera, parties, and bridge games.

A proud connoisseur of travel deals, Mary never missed a great adventure, and delighted in sharing humorous stories and rare mementos. Notorious for her cocktail parties, prolific letter-writing and unique Christmas gifts, she was an attentive and generous aunt to her nieces and nephews and their extended families: Calvin (Fran) Robinson, Edinboro, Pa.; Patti Huels, Ashtabula; Marc (Gloria) Robinson, Kutztown, Pa.; Annette (Philippe) Robinson-Brun, Bahama, N.C.; Quentin (Jennifer) Robinson, Pittsburgh, Pa.; Erica Mitchell (Steven), Chevy Chase, Md.; Mary Jo Pera (Richard), Washington, DC; and Amy Robinson, Gaithersburg, Md. She also is survived by sister-in-law, Elaine Robinson, Ashtabula, and several cherished cousins. She was preceded in death by her parents and brothers Russell (1945), John (2013), twin Milton (2016), and nephew Scott (2014).

Her trailblazing support of women, infinite curiosity, and joie de vivre will inspire and encourage her family and friends for the rest of their lives.

A celebration of life will be held at a later date.

Memorial contributions can be made to Duke University Hospice ( or First United Methodist Church (4506 Elm Avenue, Ashtabula, OH) or Whatcom Hospice Foundation ( or National YWCA of Lebanon ( or American University of Beirut (

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Mary Rowland Robinson, please visit our flower store.


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