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R. Wensell Grabarek

Posted By Hall-Wynne On December 16, 2019 @ 10:06 am In Durham,Obituaries | 18 Comments

R. Wensell Grabarek, 100, died peacefully at his Durham home on Sunday, December 15, 2019. Wense was born to Albert and Elizabeth Grabarek in Luzerne, Pennsylvania on May 21, 1919.

Wense served as mayor of Durham from 1963-1971, a time of significant social and civic growth. He appreciated that Durham gave him the opportunity to lead the city in voluntary commercial desegregation prior to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He also valued the opportunity to promote the development of the Research Triangle Park by ensuring an adequate water supply from Durham.

Wense’s outstanding political service was matched by an equally exemplary professional career. True to his independent character, he worked for himself as a certified public accountant until his retirement at age 98. His integrity was without question, and his unwavering commitment to his clients was heartfelt.

He believed strongly in the transforming power of education. Together with his wife Marion, he established scholarships at ten academic institutions and gave his support to many more. His children knew that a request for a book would always be granted.

Wense had a long history of community involvement. His leadership positions included work with The Research Triangle Park Planning Commission, the Durham County Board of Health, the Board of Trustees of Watts Hospital, the Durham Chamber of Commerce, the North Carolina League of Municipalities, the Durham County March of Dimes, the Durham County Cancer Crusade, the Durham Kiwanis Club, Campbell University, Meredith College, and Watts Street Baptist Church. Honors recognizing his civic conscience included Kiwanian of the Year, the Benjamin Franklin University Distinguished Alumni Award, the Campbell University Presidential Medallion and Algernon Sydney Award, and the Rotary Club of Durham’s Community Service Award.

Wense loved to play. Until his dying day, neighborhood children sought his company. His interests included horseback riding, surf fishing, golfing, and piano playing.  He was an avid fan of Duke basketball and attended games into his 100th year.

On September 2, 1944, Wense married Marion Pritchard Norris of Durham. She was the love of his life, and he often said that the key to his happiness was marrying her. He lost her on January 17, 2018. He is survived by his four children: Robert Wensell Grabarek Jr. (Mary Anne), Louise (Lisa) Norris Grabarek, John Carl Albert Grabarek, and David Harrison Grabarek. He leaves nine grandchildren with cherished memories of playing with Grandy: Julia Grabarek McGinnis (Shannen), Robert Wensell Grabarek III (Jon Douglas), Marion Norris Grabarek Miller (Eric), Helen Camp Matthews (Zack Arrington), William Camp Matthews III (Kristen), Kristin Elizabeth Grabarek (Jason Miller), John David Grabarek, Collin Blair Grabarek (Cloud Spurlock), and Emily Grabarek Cilliler (Serdar). He is also survived by seven great-grandchildren: Owen McGinnis, Jeremy McGinnis, Wesley Roper, Stella Miller, Lale Cilliler, Ata Cilliler, and Wilder Grabarek. Other survivors include his two sisters Wanda Ogurkis and Clara Kownacki, his sister-in-law Helen Grabarek, many nieces and nephews, and his devoted caregivers Sarah Spencer-Bey and Doreen Williams.

To honor his memory, Wense would want you to embrace each day as an opportunity to make someone else’s day better.

A visitation will be held on Sunday, December 22 from 4:00-6:00 p.m. at Hall Wynne (1113 W. Main St., Durham, NC). Interment will be at Maplewood Cemetery on Monday, December 23 at 1:00 p.m., followed by a 2:00 memorial service at Watts Street Baptist Church (800 Watts St., Durham, NC).

Wense was proud to have served in the United States Army during World War II, rising to the rank of captain. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of the Huertgen Forest. He was awarded three Battle Stars and a Bronze Star. In November of this year, he returned to Europe with three of his children to retrace his wartime journey. He wanted to honor the civilians who welcomed him, salute the soldiers who fell, and find a measure of peace in what he had witnessed. In this he succeeded. At the end of the trip, he told his children, “My life is now complete.”



Condolences for the family of “R. Wensell Grabarek”

Condolence from Joan Arrington and Michael Berger on December 16th, 2019 12:22 pm

Please accept my deepest-felt love and condolences at this time of loss and grief. My thoughts and prayers accompany you as you go through this most difficult time. Peace and love be with you.

Condolence from Sarah Spencerbey on December 16th, 2019 3:30 pm

Mr. Grabareck was an-outgoing individual. He was one who cherished family and togetherness.
He always said never put off on tomorrow what you can do today .
He was a downright businessman and very straightforward . AMEN
All my love goes out to the family !! In Jesus’s name .

Condolence from ANGELA DAVIS on December 16th, 2019 4:23 pm

My prayers and blessings with his family..

Condolence from Barbara (Tillman) Smith on December 16th, 2019 8:17 pm

I am so sorry to hear about his death. He was such a nice person and a good Boss. I worked for Grabarek and Phillips, CPA firm for 5 years in the late 1980’s. I could not convince him that computers would make the job easier and always wondered if he ever got them. I moved away from Durham in the early 90’s. I send my condolences to the family, I know he will be missed.

Condolence from Susan Matthews on December 16th, 2019 10:33 pm

You all have my sincere deeply felt love and condolences. Your father was truly kind, righteous man and he will be missed by many people.
I love you all.

Condolence from Michaele McMillan on December 17th, 2019 5:09 am

May the peace and love of God be upon this family during this time of loosing a loved one. It was my pleasure being of service to Mr.&Mrs. Grabarek. I will truly miss them both. God has a great team at his side. Their love for each other was like a fairytale and it was very much inspiring. There was never a dull moment at that house!

Condolence from Beth (Smith) Rickman on December 17th, 2019 5:33 am

Bob & Mary Anne, my heartfelt condolences over the loss of your Father. There is always, a hole in our heart when we lose a parent.
Beth (Smith) Rickman

Condolence from Patsy Sugg Berry on December 17th, 2019 6:17 am

So sorry to hear about Mr Grabarek. He was a dear friend to my mom and dad, Bob and Dot Sugg. He and my dad were still having dinner monthly even throughout this past summer. Both as members of Watts Street Baptist Church and both growing up in Durham , they shared many good memories. Thinking of all of you at this time.

Condolence from Patsy Sugg Berry on December 17th, 2019 6:52 am

I’m writing on behalf of my mom and dad, Bob and Dot Sugg. They were dear friends of Mr Grabarek. He and and my dad were having monthly dinners even this past summer! They shared many memories with being members of Watts Street Baptist Church and both growing up in Durham. So sorry for your loss.

Condolence from Becky Dalton on December 17th, 2019 8:19 am

He was one of the finest mayors that Durham had. I remember his signature red flower in his lapel. Prayers for comfort and healing in the coming days.

Condolence from Joan Luquire on December 17th, 2019 8:24 am

What a wonderful man! He helped Durham throughout his life and was so loved by everyone. Thank you Mr. Grabarek!

Condolence from The Moran Family on December 17th, 2019 9:37 am

We are so sorry to hear about this. We send you our love and sympathies.

Condolence from Kyle Hickok on December 17th, 2019 3:35 pm

I had the good fortune to first meet Mr. Grabarek in 1991 when I was one of the first Edward Jones Financial Advisors in Durham. Mr. Grabarek and I shared a number of clients, and I was always impressed by his genuine affection for his clients.

He will not be forgotten.

Condolence from The Rev. Dr. & Mrs Charles L. Wood on December 17th, 2019 4:54 pm

Nancy and Charles Wood wish to convey our sympathy to Mary Ann and her husband. We will remember the family in our prayers at the Chapel at Penick Village, Southern Pines where we now reside.

Condolence from Maher younsi on December 17th, 2019 7:48 pm

R.I.P. R.Wensell Grabarek.

Condolence from Wense Grabarek, Battle of the Bulge veteran, dies at 100 on December 18th, 2019 5:04 am

[…] A visitation will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22, at Hall Wynne, 1113 W. Main St., according to the funeral home. Burial will take place at 1 p.m. Monday, Dec 23, at Maplewood Cemetery, and a memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. at Watts Street Baptist Church, 800 Watts St. […]

Condolence from Duane Southerland on December 18th, 2019 5:26 pm

Lisa, i want to extend my sincere condolence on the death of your father. He did a wonderful job as mayor of Durham and it was always a pleasure to see him at Duke basketball games.

Condolence from K D Kennedy on December 19th, 2019 8:26 pm

We had a fun time together at Duke Basketball games! Wense could not stand to watch a free throw during tight games. He would look back at me, right in the eyes, and wait for my expression of glee when the ball went through the hoop. If not, he would quickly turn around and follow the action waiting for the next exciting play. He loved the game almost as much ad he loved his family and friends.

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