Mary Abu-Saba Obituary (1939-2020) – Greensboro, NC
Abu-Saba, Dr. Mary Edith Bentley
June 6, 1939 – October 30, 2020
Dr. Mary Edith Bentley Abu-Saba died on October 30, 2020 at the age of 81. She was born on June 6, 1939 in Richmond, VA, to Reverend Floyd and Edith Bayne Bentley, and was the youngest of five. Appreciated and teased by siblings who had remained close over the years, she faithfully attended the summer “Sibling Sizzle” parties.
The daughter of an itinerant Methodist preacher, Mary Edith grew up in small towns in Virginia, learning household skills from her mother and rhetoric from her father. She studied music (organ) at Randolph Macon Woman’s College. She met Elias Abu-Saba, the engineering student at the Virginia Polytechnical Institute, on Valentine’s Day, 1959, at a reception for foreign students. They were thrilled from the start.
Mary Edith put her Christian values into practice when she and three other white and two black students took part in a sit-in at the lunch counter of Patterson’s drug store in Lynchburg on December 14, 1960, just months before graduation. While her parents supported her actions, the community did not. She lost her job as a church organist and spent 21 days in prison.
Mary Edith and Elias married on June 6, 1961, moved to California for a year, had a daughter, Leila, and then moved to Elias’ home village of Mia Mia, Lebanon. After Lebanon, they lived in Saudi Arabia, traveled across Europe in a VW Microbus bought in Turkey and then shipped the VW to California, where they had a son, Khalil. A year later, the same VW brought the family back to Blacksburg, VA and across the US over the years. Photos from those dizzying years show the young couple staring at each other lovingly, playing with the children and laughing with friends.
While raising children, Mary Edith and Elias also raised their voices for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. In 1970 they had moved to Peoria, IL for Elias’ university job. Mary Edith was an underprivileged elementary school student and earned a Masters and PhD in psychology from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. After graduation, she ran the Parkview Shelter Care Home, Decatur, IL.
In 1975 the family moved to Greensboro, NC to seek her position as a consulting psychologist at UNC-Greensboro and Elias was appointed to the engineering faculty at NC A&T State University. Originally a women’s college, the UNCG had become Coed. When alumnae noticed a decline in female leaders on campus, Chancellor Mary Edith appointed chair of a committee to review the status of students and faculty. The committee’s report prompted the university to address some of the inequalities between faculties and to approve the establishment of a women’s center.
Lifetime friendships forged by the university administration led Mary and friends to found Avalon, a private professional practice center that included psychologists, family therapists, and nonprofit leaders. Danced at the Avalon on her 50th birthday, Mary Edith entertained everyone with a preview of the energy she would give over the next two decades of her peak career.
After years of involvement in progressive politics, Mary Edith ran for the NC House of Representatives in her district in the 1980s. She didn’t win, but she has never regretted running.
Mary Edith was a valued family member in the global village of Elias. When the Lebanese civil war left many of Elias’ relatives homeless in the 1980s, the Abu-Sabas welcomed them to Greensboro and helped them rebuild their lives. In 1994, Mary Edith accepted a position in the Department of Educational Psychology at the American University of Beirut. Mary and Elias traveled the Mediterranean and the Middle East for six years. On New Year’s Day 2000, they greeted dawn together in Aleppo, Syria, after driving a trusty old Mercedes to the upper reaches of the Euphrates. In 2001 they relocated to the Bay Area of California to be around children and grandchildren.
Mary has been a constant support to husband Elias (deceased 2006) and daughter Leila (deceased 2009) in their battle against cancer. In 2011 she made her last move, back to Greensboro, NC. The family would like to thank Friends Homes West for looking after the last decade of their lives. Mary and her son Khalil laughed at the many visits during their sunset years; In her final hours, he held her hand, spoke to her, and played a recording of Elias’ voice to guide her across the river.
Mary Edith was survived by son Khalil Elias Phelan Abusaba and his wife Sarah Phelan Abusaba; Grandsons Cyrus Abu-Saba, Jacob MacLeod, Joseph Macleod; Stiefenkel Rachel Kassem and Anthony Kassem; Siblings Edward Bentley, Susan Bentley Creger (deceased 2021) and Bayne Bentley. Her older sister Susan Creger died 11 months later, on October 12, 2021. Sister Joan Hoelzer died on April 30, 2016.
Mary’s life was celebrated in a virtual memorial service on November 15, 2020, led by Rev. Jeanette Stokes.
Forbis & Dick
5926 W. Friendly Avenue, Greensboro, NC 27410
Published by Greensboro News & Record on October 30, 2021.