A lifelong journey comes to an end

Staff WriterApril 29, 2007 

— Over half a century ago, shortly after Mary and Dick Leuba married but before the first of four children complicated matters, they hiked across the Cascade Mountain Range.

Over the years, she visited all 50 states.

In 1999, when she was in her 70s, she scaled Mount Kilimanjaro.

It was her lust for travel and her love of physical challenge that led her across the globe, to places including Cuba and Tunisia.

It was her passion for adventure that kept her foraging for new places to go and new things to do at an age when many retirees are content to watch television re-runs and play Mahjong.

It was a series of strokes that finally slowed her down in recent years and forced her to stow her passport.

Mary Bernard Leuba, insatiable explorer, died March 24 of injuries sustained in a fall. She was 80.

Leuba was raised on a farm near Weiser, Idaho. She grew accustomed to living unconventionally at a young age, as her family took refuge first in a tent on their farmland and later in the cow barn. Eventually, they moved into a house on the property.

After finishing first in her high school class, she enrolled at Antioch College in Ohio. It was there that she met Dick Leuba, when they were assigned dish-washing duty at the co-op.

Theirs was a strictly wash-and-dry relationship in the beginning. Mary concentrated on her studies and didn't have much time for guys. Dick hit the books too but didn't neglect the co-eds.

They stayed in touch sporadically as they progressed through college. On her way back from a political rally in Washington, D.C., Mary dropped by to visit Dick. This time, he was smitten.

But he needed an academic opinion. Soon after graduation, he consulted Antioch's dean of students, a trusted adviser.

"Is there someone whom you would most like to make babies with?" queried the dean.

"Mary!" Dick answered.

That night, they smooched for the first time.

Six months later, on Dec. 24, 1950, they married -- Mary's college buddy Coretta Scott King was a bridesmaid -- and settled in Seattle.

In 1956, they sold their house and embarked on an adventure that others may dream about but rarely realize. Neither had ever been abroad, and they decided to spend three months in Europe, baby James in tow. Mary was nursing James, so it was just a matter of washing out dirty diapers.

Upon their return, Mary worked as a social worker, advocating for children.

Journey to Raleigh

When a teaching position for a mechanical engineer eventually materialized at N.C. State University, Dick got the job. The Leubas moved across the country in 1973, and Raleigh became their home.

Mary had no problem moving. She thrived on new beginnings.

"If she got used to going somewhere one way, she'd want to go another way the next time," Dick Leuba said.

In Raleigh, Mary continued her work with troubled children, working with Partners of Wake County, a youth mentoring program.

They met a large circle of friends, many of whom joined them on weekend camping expeditions. It was cheaper to stick the kids in a tent and cook meals outside than it was to stay in town.

Dick biked to work from their home in Five Points; he was into conserving energy. Mary, on the other hand, liked expending energy. That was her reason for biking all over the place, joining bicycling groups and international tours.

Shoshana Serxner, a friend from Raleigh, traveled with her to Tunisia when Mary was 69. They rode about 450 miles in two weeks. Once, when a shortcut turned out to be a sandy, pocked road, Mary, the oldest biker, fell behind. But not for long. Soon, there she was, bike in the back of a pick-up, flashing a triumphant grin. She'd hitched a ride.

"She was totally gray-haired then," Serxner said. "But she didn't act her age."

Mary's bike, like the rest of her possessions, wasn't a high-end model. She wasn't one of those people who visit specialty stores to buy the latest and greatest equipment. Hers was a regular street bike.

"As long as it worked," Serxner said, "it was fine."

Within the past few months, Mary's eyesight failed, and she could no longer ride the bicycle.

Her husband found out about a student that reconditions bikes for poor children.

Mary agreed that it was an appropriate final destination for her dusty pink Giant with the thick tires, and in January, she bade it farewell.

Mary Leuba is survived by her husband, Dick, four children, 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Staff writer Bonnie Rochman can be reached at 829-4871 or bonnie.rochman@newsobserver.com.

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