Published: Nov 02, 2011 02:00 AM
Modified: Oct 31, 2011 08:14 PM
CHAPEL HILL - She worked in the background throughout her life as an organist, teacher and civic volunteer; now Pearl Francis Seymour's legacy is in the foreground after her death last week in Chapel Hill.
Seymour, 84, died Friday after battling dementia for four years. She suffered a stroke in September and spent the last two months recovering at her home at the Carol Woods Retirement Community, where she lived with her husband of 55 years, Robert Seymour Jr.
The couple is best known for their roles in the beginning of Olin T. Binkley Memorial Baptist Church, founded in 1958 as some of the first black students were enrolling in UNC and dedicated to serving all races, and for their strong support of senior programs and numerous civic organizations.
Southern Orange County's senior center, the Robert and Pearl Seymour Center on Homestead Road in Chapel Hill, is named for them.
Pearl Seymour was a musician, playing the organ for 30 years at Binkley Memorial Baptist Church, where her husband served as pastor. She taught music at Mars Hill College before moving to Chapel Hill and also taught local students out of her home for decades, even after she moved into a retirement community.
Family and friends described her as reserved; content to work quietly when something needed to get done. She avoided the spotlight, said her son, Robert Seymour III, 54, who lives in Raleigh.
"She never liked to be the one that received the attention. She was always there for my father, but it was behind the scenes," he said. "She just didn't like to get a lot of attention for things she had done, even though she was instrumental in doing some great things."
Her passion for teaching came through in all she did, Seymour said. She was the disciplinarian and was the one home to help with homework for Seymour and his sister Frances Jane Seymour.
"The teacher in her kind of came out in everything she showed and displayed to my sister and I," he said. "She was the strong, silent type in our family."
Her affection for teaching and music extended throughout the community Her organ performances before and after Sunday services at Binkley Memorial Baptist Church were a treat, like "mini concerts," and throughly enjoyed as a part of worship, said Jim Wilde, who started attending Binkley Baptist in 1972 and sang in the choir to Seymour's accompaniment.
"She had a wonderful and broad repertoire with that organ that was a great part of our worship experience at Binkley," he said.
Seymour also played piano regularly for the senior center's Monday afternoon tea, and was committed to supporting center programs, said Janice Tyler, the director of the Orange County Department on Aging.
"She and Bob were regular participants for many of our programs we had at the center," Tyler said. "They were both very passionate about getting the center built."
Seymour also often volunteered on election days, staffing polling places to make sure voting went smoothly, said her son.
She also enjoyed spending time with her four grandchildren, playing tennis and watching Carolina basketball.
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday at Binkley Memorial Baptist Church.