Mary H. Henry, a great-granddaughter of slaves who earned a degree in pharmacy and later became a homemaker, died of a cardiac arrest Aug. 6 at a son's Ashburton home. She was 101.
Mrs. Henry quietly observed her birthday on June 3, family members said.
"She didn't want a party or anything. She was never one for much fanfare," said a son, Dr. Irving J. Henry, a retired Baltimore dentist. "I went over to my brother's house, fixed dinner, and the three of us sat there eating, laughing and telling jokes."
Mary Holley, the daughter of a general store owner and a homemaker, was born and raised in Greensboro, N.C.
After graduating from high school, she earned a pharmacy degree in 1928 from Howard University. She then returned to Greensboro, where she worked as a drugstore pharmacist.
She met her future husband, Dr. William E. Henry, who was then teaching at North Carolina A&T State University. They married in 1930 and later moved to the Eastern Shore, settling in Snow Hill, where her husband was superintendent of colored schools for Worcester County.
"She wasn't able to work as a pharmacist because of the racism that existed in those days on the Eastern Shore," her son said.
In 1942, she moved to Bowie when her husband was appointed president of Bowie State Teachers College, now Bowie State University, a position he held for 25 years before retiring in 1967. He died in 1996.
"She never worked as a pharmacist again because she was raising four children and handling the necessary duties that arose being the wife of a college president," Dr. Henry said.
Since 1967, Mrs. Henry had lived in Ashburton.
Known as "Miss Mama Mary," Mrs. Henry was an accomplished cook, baker, seamstress and gardener.
"There was nothing she couldn't cook," said Dr. Henry, who was taught how to cook by his mother.
In recent years, Mrs. Henry, who suffered from arthritis, was confined to a wheelchair.
"That was her greatest lament, that she couldn't work in the garden anymore. She fussed about that shortly before her death," Dr. Henry said.
Dr. Henry said his mother followed no particular regimen leading to her longevity.
"She ate everything and anything in moderation. She did not drink and stopped smoking more than 50 years ago," he said. "She loved life and always had a positive outlook."
Patricia D. "Pat" Welch, a lawyer and an administrative judge for the city's Environmental Control Board, was particularly fond of listening to her grandmother's stories of growing up in the rural South.
"Because she had lived so long, there was a lot of perspective in her stories. She enjoyed telling stories about the way things were when she was young," Ms. Welch said. "She was a giving person who saw more value in people than in material things."
Inevitably, Mrs. Henry recalled what it was like growing up during the era of segregation.
"Because she was fair-skinned, she could go into any store and shop without being bothered. When she was shopping in a store one day, her husband came in to pay for the merchandise and the clerk refused because he was black," said Ms. Welch, who lives in Ashburton.
"My grandmother was a very principled person. She said, 'No sale. I'm black, too. So, I won't be buying anything from you today,' " Ms. Welch said.
"However, racism did not make her a bitter person. In her life, she was able to reach back, tell such stories, and move forward," she said.
Last November, Mrs. Henry was able to cast her vote for Barack Obama for president. "His election as president was huge for her. She never thought she'd live to see a black elected president, but she did," Ms. Welch said.
Mrs. Henry learned how to use a computer in order to play her two favorite online card games, FreeCell and solitaire. She also liked completing crossword puzzles daily.
She was a member for 42 years of Our Savior Lutheran Church on The Alameda.
Services for Mrs. Henry were held Tuesday at March West Funeral Home.
Also surviving is another son, William J. Henry of Ashburton; and four other grandchildren. A daughter, Vivian Henry, died in 1947; and a second daughter, Julia Henry, died last year.