On September 26, 2018, the School of Education had the pleasure of hosting Ms. Mary Cobb Northington at the SOE Building for the first time since she graduated in 1968. She was joined by two of her daughters, Beth and Sandi, and her granddaughter Linley (also a SOE alumna). They were welcomed by TEHE Department Chair Dr. Colleen Fairbanks, Kim Kaufmann and Rosalie Catanoso from the Dean’s Office, and were given a tour of the Teaching Resources Center and the SELF Design Studio where they were introduced to Dean Randy Penfield, Jewell Cooper, Terri Jackson, and Matt Fisher.
Mary has a remarkable story — and it is all written in a glossy book that she dictated to her daughters, who had copies published for family and friends. Mary and her late husband James were farmers for the first part of their young adult lives, until James felt a calling to join the ministry. Mary had many secretary jobs in the various cities and states that James was assigned to, including Wilmore, Kentucky and Charlotte, North Carolina. James commuted to High Point College where he graduated in 1956, and Mary attributes his success as her own — she got up at 5 a.m. every morning to help him leave for school, tend the garden, and get their four children off to school. Their next appointment was in Greensboro, and it was their largest church yet. Mary and James welcomed their fifth child, Beth, in 1963.
It wasn’t until then, at 41 years old with five children, that Mary thought about college for herself. A church friend, Adeline Thomas, stopped by to see her and she suggested that she apply to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with her. In her book, Mary says: “Could that be possible? Looking at college brochures and dreaming I could go, I took the entrance exam and had a deficit in high school geometry. I enrolled for summer school at a brand new Smith High School and enjoyed it tremendously. I easily passed the test and then here I was, entering in college, after graduating from Bartow High where my graduating class had 13 members.”
James, Adeline, and other church friends were always encouraging of her studies, and Mary remembers Beth being an easy baby to care for even when in school full-time. Much to her surprise, she and James welcomed their sixth child, Sandi, in 1967. It hardly slowed her down — she completed her student teaching and graduated on time in 1968. She took her first teaching job in Summerfield, North Carolina, and then her second job teaching fifth grade for eight years at Reeds Elementary in Davidson County. They then moved their family to Lake Tillery, where Mary commuted to Denton to teach. After retiring from teaching, Mary served as secretary and treasurer of the Holiday Shores of Lake Tillery Association for 10 years, where she says she did some of the hardest work of her life.
Mary and her family faced some devastating challenges later in life, with losing her son Ralph in 2008 and her husband James in 2013. Nevertheless, Mary’s positivity and tenacity is as strong as ever, with the help from tremendous support from her children and grandchildren. When visiting the School of Education with her two daughters and granddaughter, she said: “My life has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs. But I try to live my life with purpose, and I’m happy to be here.”
It was an honor to welcome Ms. Mary Cobb Northington back to her Alma Mater of UNCG after so many years as a thank-you for her dedication to education. Many thanks to Colleen Fairbanks and Gabrielle Leonard for making this visit possible.
Scroll down to see more photos from Mary’s visit.