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Jan. 25, 2012 /FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE / Photos Attached
UNCSA COMMUNITY SADDENED
WINSTON-SALEM – The University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) family is mourning the loss of Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans, a founder of the school and a beloved friend, patron, and benefactor.
Mrs. Semans, of Durham, died this morning. She was 91.
Perhaps best known for carrying on the legacy of Duke University’s founding family, she emerged as one of North Carolina’s greatest philanthropists, supporting the arts and education. She was preceded in death by her husband, Dr. James H. Semans, who died in 2005 and served as the first chairman of the School of the Arts’ board of trustees.
“Mary Semans was the mother of UNCSA, and like the great mother she was, her love for the school was unconditional,” said UNCSA Chancellor John Mauceri. “That she led, supported and inspired this school from the moment it was imagined to the cusp of its 50th birthday was in and of itself miraculous. It is hard to imagine going forward without her.
“Now it is our responsibility to carry on as she demonstrated every day of her life, with passion, kindness, wisdom and determination,” Mauceri continued. “If there was one word to describe Mary Semans it would be ‘beautiful’ in every sense of that word.”
Mrs. Semans served as a trustee of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts for more than 20 years, and was serving as an emeritus trustee at the time of her death. She most recently attended the September board meeting in person, and the December board meeting via phone. Her grandson, Charles C. Lucas III, is chairman of the UNCSA Board of Trustees. Mrs. Semans also was serving as an emeritus member of the UNCSA Board of Visitors at the time of her death.
Chancellor Emeritus Alex Ewing said: “Mary Semans has been the heart and soul and most passionate champion of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Ever since it was founded nearly half a century ago, she believed in it, fought for it, supported it day after day, year after year, never relenting in her conviction that it served a vital function in the life of the community, the state, and the nation.
Photo by Steve Davis
Mrs. Semans with Douglas Zinn, executive director of the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, left, and UNCSA Chancellor John Mauceri, right.
Mrs. Semans with student Baron Fenwick, Chancellor Mauceri and Lou Anne Crumpler.
“She loved, and in turn was truly and deeply loved, by the students and faculty and staff and all who cared for the school,” Ewing continued. “As we grieve our loss, even more we will always cherish her memory.”
UNCSA School of Drama Dean Gerald Freedman said: “Mary Semans has been my dear friend, champion, and confidante for over 20 years. Somehow when Mary was in the room everything was better, there was meaning, purpose and hope. She and her husband, Dr. Jim Semans, were two of the most remarkable people I have ever known. Totally selfless, generous of spirit and pocketbook, always serving a greater purpose.
“Her legacy will live on vividly,” Freedman continued, “and she and Jim will continue to inspire generations of young artists to reach for their dreams. I can't begin to express how much I will miss Mary, but her passion, vision and energy will live on as long as there is a University of North Carolina School of the Arts!”
The Semanses served a multiplicity of volunteer leadership roles at the School of the Arts. Dr. Semans was selected in 1964 by then-Gov. Terry Sanford as first chairman of the school's board of trustees. He served as chairman for 17 consecutive years, when his wife succeeded him on the board. Mrs. Semans served on the board from 1981 until she was no longer eligible to serve, in 1989, when she was named an honorary trustee.
The Semanses also individually held memberships on the school's Board of Visitors and Foundation board. In addition, both served on the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts Board of Advisors.
The Semanses were the single largest contributors each year to the school's former International Music Program, traveling with the participants for more than 30 years on the European tours. They also contributed to the school's International Dance Program and Drama exchange with the then-Soviet Union, as well as other school projects.
The couple established an endowment fund for the school's library, which is named for them.
In addition, they established three grant programs for students, including the Semans Art Fund, which supports UNCSA students’ creative projects and was said to be closer to their hearts than any other cause. Dr. and Mrs. Semans also established numerous scholarship funds for students.
They funded the NCSA Oral History Project, compiled by Douglas Zinn, which is part of the book, "A Passionate Preference: The Story of the North Carolina School of the Arts," by Leslie Banner.
In 1990, the couple received the first Giannini Society Medallion ever awarded by the School of the Arts, in honor of their service to the school. They received honorary doctorates from the school in 2001.
Together they also received the North Carolina Award, for their contributions to the arts and to the state, in 1971 and 1986; the Morrison Award, for their contribution to the arts in North Carolina, in 1973; and the North Carolina Philanthropy Award, in 1997.
Mary D.B.T. Semans received her bachelor’s degree from Duke, where she majored in history. She was chairman of the board of trustees of The Duke Endowment, vice chairman of The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, and trustee emeritus of Duke University and the North Carolina Museum of Art. She was chairman of the Executive Mansion Fine Arts Committee, and board member of the Kenan Institute in Ethics at Duke University and the North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. On the national level, she served as a trustee of the National Humanities Center, an associate of the Council on Foundations, and a member of the National Advisory Council on Vocational Rehabilitation.
She won numerous awards for her work, including the National Governors’ Association Distinguished Service Award, for service to the arts in North Carolina and the nation; the University of North Carolina’s University Award, for her contributions to higher education, health care and the fine arts; and, most recently, the Caldwell Award for her contributions to the humanities in North Carolina.
Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. Monday, Jan. 30, at Duke Chapel in Durham.
DURHAM — Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans, a lifelong
philanthropist and civic leader in North Carolina, died
on January 25, 2012, in Durham. She was 91.