Life Stories

A passion for the arts

Beth Paschal spent her life pursuing her dreams

Staff WriterMarch 30, 2009 

A new place to visit, a new book to read, a new person to meet -- Beth Paschal met any opportunity, even ones that might have seemed commonplace to others, with a sense of curiosity and wonder.

That spirit led her to exemplary service as a supporter of the North Carolina Museum of Art, the library at N.C. State, Wake Forest University and the American Dance Festival, among other causes.

It also led her to innumerable small moments of joy.

Her daughter, Huston Paschal, recalls a time when power outages caused by an ice storm forced her and her mother to spend a night at her brother's house. They were sharing a room, trying to catch a nap before dinner.

From the other side of the room came the sounds of her mother giggling as she read Jane Austen. The prose so charmed and delighted her that she couldn't help laughing out loud, Huston Paschal says.

"That was pretty much the way she went through her days," she says.

Beth Paschal died last month at age 91.

As a volunteer and patron of arts and education in North Carolina, Beth Paschal's accomplishments were considerable.

She was inducted into the Raleigh Academy of Women in 1983, received the Raleigh Medal of Arts in 1986 and was made a member of the Raleigh Hall of Fame in 2007. In 1965, when she was president of the N.C. Art Society and her husband, Dr. George Paschal, was president of the N.C. Medical Society, The News & Observer named them Tar Heels of the Week.

Huston Paschal says her parents brought out the best in others, including their children.

"They held themselves to a high standard," she says. "They were both innate teachers, masters of constructive criticism. They would find something good to praise in what you had done so far, help you see how it could be improved upon, and encourage you to persevere. This was done skillfully, so that you went along with it, rather than resisted it."

Beth Paschal met her husband when both were living at the YMCA in Philadelphia. He was a doctor and traded his services as house physician for lodging. She was an associate editor at "The Farm Journal" and wrote the Y's newsletter in lieu of rent. It was the first of many things they would find they had in common.

The couple became engaged by mail while he was serving in North Africa during World War II and married while he was home on leave in December, 1944. After the war, the Paschals debated staying in Philadelphia but moved to Wake County. George Paschal was from Wake Forest.

Eschewing the traditional, they commissioned architect James Fitzgibbon of the fledgling N.C. State University School of Design to craft a plan for their home. An elegant study in line and light, the home is an icon of the modernist movement in Raleigh and on the National Register of Historic Places.

Huston Paschal says her parents' home reflected their progressive outlook on life. They saw possibilities. This stood her mother in good stead during her association with the North Carolina Museum of Art.

The state's art collection began its life in an old government building downtown whose offices had been converted to galleries. Beth Paschal began her work there before the museum's opening, unpacking boxes, labeling artwork and the like.

"They just did whatever needed being done," Huston Paschal says.

Her mother became a docent, a passionate advocate for arts education and a fundraiser. When George Paschal would travel to medical conferences, Beth would accompany him and study art museums.

Her love of travel may have been born when she worked as a reporter for "The Farm Journal," where she traversed the country by train writing about rural life for the publication. Later, her destinations would include Egypt, Russia, South America and China, not long after the country was opened to Westerners.

As she aged and was no longer able to take lengthy trips, she refused to be idle, attending the symphony and jazz concerts, ballet performances and art openings as often as she could.

"She still would rather go than not," Huston Paschal says.

Huston Paschal accompanied her on many of her journeys, near and far. It was a central part of the friendship they shared as Huston grew to know her mother as an adult.

Of their relationship, Huston Paschal says, "It was one of the great pleasures of maturing to realize she really was remarkable."

amber@amberwrites.com

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