Mary Yarborough Bridgers of Pinehurst, whose love and concern for children helped lead to numerous improvements in child care in her adopted home of Chapel Hill and statewide, died July 20, 2017.
Born in Sanford on February 6, 1926, Mary was the first of six children of Phillip and Wilma Yarborough. Her parents’ farm and ownership of a Sanford dairy that remains today as Yarborough’s Homemade Ice Cream gave Mary numerous opportunities to explore and have adventures as a child.
After graduating from Sanford High School, Mary spent her only time outside of North Carolina, first attending the College of William and Mary, where she met her future spouse, Henry Bridgers II, and then raising their four children and supporting her husband’s scientific career in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
1n 1962, Mary returned to North Carolina and settled in Chapel Hill, a place that nurtured her personally and professionally. She in turn improved the lives of many of Chapel Hill children after being hired as a teacher and then promoted to director of the Victory Village Day Care Center at the University of North Carolina.
Although technically an administrator, she was often with the center’s children, reading stories, playing, and changing countless diapers. Her work with parents and understanding of the importance of play in the development of young children made the center a model for the community.
But she had a vision beyond her own center for making programs better for children, including those vulnerable due to issues such as poverty. She was one of the founders of the Orange County Child Care Coalition, which advocated for more funds for early childhood education.
In addition, she helped found the Community Kitchen, which produced nutritious meals more efficiently at a single site for numerous child-care programs, and which still serves 1,200 Triangle-area children daily.
Mary also was one of the initiators of Child Care Services Association, a program with origins in Chapel Hill that has expanded statewide and nationally to provide services to children, families, and programs, including one that helps teachers earn a college degree in child development and thus improve expertise and salaries in the field. Mary spent many evenings and weekends working as a board member to help the organization raise money and thrive. In recognition of her work, the organization gives the Mary Y. Bridgers Child Care Provider Award to an outstanding early childhood teacher in the Triangle every two years.
Mary always cared deeply about her own children and family. After Mary’s mother died at age 44 in 1947, she suggested to her father that he date her former high school history teacher. That suggestion kept her younger siblings from being raised apart, as the teacher, Edna Earl Beddingfield, raised them after marrying Mr. Yarborough in 1949 in a hospital ceremony as he was dying of cancer.
Mary also was a passionate advocate for civil rights, especially for women, African Americans, and people living in poverty. She loved Broadway plays, fine films, novels, and conversing with numerous good friends.
Family members surviving Mary include her children Henry Bridgers III of Pinehurst (Avis Lahey Bridgers of Colorado) and Crystal Baldessari (Jeffrey) of Pinehurst; Pamela Bridgers (Helene Roelofs) of the Netherlands; brothers Phillip (Angie) and Carol (Ann) Yarborough of Sanford; sisters Billie Berryhill (James) of Charlotte and Janet Kelly (Glenn) of Asheville. Along with her parents, she was preceded in death by her ex-husband, Henry Bridgers II of Newport News, Va.; brother Rufus Yarborough of Sanford; and daughter Amy Bridgers Wilkins of Chapel Hill.
There will be no service. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be sent to the Child Care Services Association, PO Box 901, Chapel Hill, NC 27514