Marion Durwood Barbour—local historian, bituminous design engineer, and devoted husband and father—died peacefully on Wednesday March 2nd at Wake Medical Center, surrounded by members of his family. He was 87. Durwood (as he was called) was born on January 4, 1929, to William Elbert and Lettie Stephenson Barbour in the Barbourtown section of Johnston County, North Carolina. Durwood had two brothers, Atlee and Kenneth. His father, who had served in France in World War I, and mother were farmers who instilled in their son an extraordinary work ethic, one that helped Durwood become the first member of his family to attend university, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he took a degree in geology (class of 1952). His successful academic career was forecast when he was recognized as the most outstanding seventh grader in the county and received a medal from the Sons of the American Revolution.
After Chapel Hill, he took on a position as an asphalt engineer for the NC Highway Commission where over the course of his career he was officially recognized for his innovative contributions to the welfare of North Carolina's highways. In 1953 he married Mary Anne Baker, a hometown sweetheart from Four Oaks who had first admired her husband-to-be in a school play. Their marriage over the course of 63 years was lived out in Raleigh, first in Longview Gardens then later in the Five Points' region. They had two sons, Steven and Reid, who made careers in music and academia respectively.
Durwood was always an avid collector, at first of stamps and coins until he found a passion that was fueled by his love of local history, a massive collection of historical postcards of North Carolina towns and byways. The compiling of this collection required uncommon patience; Durwood would have to sift through thousands of worthless cards in order to find a special one, a real photograph of an early twentieth-century main street in a small town for example, or a unique glimpse into the life of tenet farmers or orphans in the old South. This collection is of such great historical value that the North Carolina Collection at Durwood's alma mater in Chapel Hill welcomed it as a donation in 2007, an event that was celebrated with an exhibit and Durwood's presentation. Numbering nearly 8,000 items and the result of over 25 years of searching, the Durwood Barbour Collection of Postcards is consulted regularly by scholars and the general public from all over the world via the Internet or at the Wilson Library on the campus of UNC. Another product of Durwood's expertise in local history is a 1997 book co-authored with Todd Johnson entitled Johnston County, an entry in the Image of America series.
Later in life, having received a broker's license, Durwood practiced real estate with Barker Realty. With a lovely resonant voice, Durwood was able to fulfill a lifelong ambition to perform on the radio, serving as a reader for the Triangle Radio Reading Service for the print-impaired. In his spare time, Durwood enjoyed lunching at the Lion's Club and especially playing bridge with a variety of local clubs, all of whom appreciated his talent for the game, regarding which he was not always completely modest. Among various charitable activities Durwood was involved in the Meals on Wheels program, and in securing free eye exams and glasses for the needy. He was a faithful member of the Methodist community, first at Longview Gardens Methodist Church and later at Edenton Street where he and Mary Anne made many dear friends and where Durwood served as a Lay Shepherd checking on the sick and homebound. He also had a supportive community of neighbors at his home in Whitaker Glen.
He was preceded in death by his brother Atlee. He is survived by his wife and two sons, daughters-in-law Phyllis Isley Blackburn Barbour and Jessica Lynn Wolfe, two beloved granddaughters Ashley and Claire, brother Kenneth and sister-in-law Helen.
The family will receive visitors on Monday, March 7th, 5:30-6:30, in the Commons area at Edenton Street United Methodist Church, 228 West Edenton Street, in Raleigh. A memorial service will take place the next day at 2:00, also at Edenton Street, with burial to follow at Historic Oakwood Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, donations should be made to the Edenton Street United Methodist Church.