Mary Jane Stratton Mayhew Burns, a clinical social worker specializing in counseling and family therapy who was a beloved wife, mother, grandmother, friend, and a leader in the Chapel Hill/Durham community, passed away on September 22nd after a two year battle with cancer.
Mary Jane was born on July 22, 1937 in Ashland, KY and grew up in Charlotte, NC. She graduated from Charlotte’s Myers Park HS in 1955 and from Salem College in 1959. Her commitment to social justice was established early: while a student at Salem, she worked as an intern on the Bowery in East Harlem Parish in New York City for several summers. After graduating from Salem, she attended Union Theological Seminary in NYC to begin her studies for a master’s degree in Philosophy of Religion. She married Walter Woodrow Burns Jr. (Wood) on June 26, 1960. Wood graduated from the US Naval Academy in June 1960 to begin a career in the US Navy. They moved to Charleston, SC, where Mary Jane taught English at North Charleston HS. They moved to NYC in 1962, when Wood’s ship was transferred to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Mary Jane resumed her studies at Union, which she completed in 1963. They moved to Norfolk, VA in 1963 where she taught Philosophy of Religion at Old Dominion College.
In 1964 they moved to Durham, NC where their first son, Walter Woodrow Burns III (Woody), was born. They moved to Chapel Hill, NC in 1965 when Wood began medical school at UNC. While in Durham, Mary Jane went to work at the Durham Department of Public Welfare for one year and then became the director of Edgemont Community Center in Durham, a position she held until 1969. She was a devoted leader and public servant, and was dearly loved by the community.
In 1969, after Wood graduated from medical school, they moved to Coronado, CA for one year. Wood completed his internship at the US Naval Hospital in San Diego, where their second son, Jonathan Ross Burns, was born in 1969. The family returned to Chapel Hill in 1970, where Mary Jane began teaching at the School of Public Health while also pursuing her Master of Social Work degree at UNC, which she completed in 1974. The family spent 1974-75 in Sheffield, England where Wood pursued additional training in pediatric surgery.
The family returned to Chapel Hill in 1975, where Wood started a private practice in general surgery, which he enjoyed until his retirement on June 1, 2012. Mary Jane joined the department of pediatrics at Duke as a clinical social worker and worked there for ten years. She then opened her own private practice, specializing in counseling and family therapy, which she continued until the time of her death.
Mary Jane enjoyed traveling, gardening, historic home restoration, cooking, dancing, laughing, tennis, swimming, volunteering, raising her two sons, and nurturing her two beloved grandchildren, Sara Ross and William Franklin. Her volunteer work included three trips to Kenya with her family, where they volunteered at PCEA Kikuyu Hospital. She was a lifelong Democrat and social activist, which included dedicated participation in the civil rights movement and the women’s rights movement.
Mary Jane’s many accomplishments included:
-Founding member of the Church of Reconciliation, where she served as an Elder.
-Member of University Presbyterian Church, where she served as an Elder, a Stephen Minister, Chair of the Local Outreach Committee and Nominating Committee.
-Chair of the Board for The Women’s Center, where she received the volunteer of the year award in 1999.
-Board member of the Chapel Hill Preservation Society.
-Member of the Horace Williams House committee, where she organized several extraordinary exhibits.
-Board member of the Glenwood Elementary School PTA.
-Board member of the NC Botanical Garden Foundation.
-Active member of the Coker Garden Club. On the 100th anniversary of the Coker Arboretum, she hosted a reception and garden tour at the former Coker estate, where she had lovingly restored the house and gardens.
-Member of the Chapel Hill Human Services Advisory Board.
Mary Jane had a special gift for friendship typified by a favorite quote from George Eliot, “A friend is one to whom one may pour out all of the contents of one's heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that the gentlest of hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of human kindness, blow the rest away.” This resulted in a large circle of close friends from every walk of life.
Mary Jane is survived by her husband, Wood; her two sons, Woody and Ross; her two grandchildren, Sara Ross and Will; her three sisters, Anna Jean Mayhew, Linda Mayhew Gore, and Susan Mayhew Devine; and many beloved nieces, nephews, cousins, and in-laws.
A memorial service will be held 3pm Thursday, September 27 at University Presbyterian Church, Chapel Hill, NC. Donations in honor of Mary Jane Burns may be made to UNC Lineberger Cancer Center, Dept. of Gyn Oncology; NC Botanical Garden Foundation, The Women’s Center, University Presbyterian Church Benevolence Outreach Fund, Chapel Hill Preservation Society.
Online condolences may be made at www.walkersfuneralservice.com
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