Life Stories

Love for education, service marked Glenn's long life

'Nurse Madge' remembered as caregiver, pioneer

CORRESPONDENTJanuary 20, 2013 

LIFESTORY.GLENN.NE.012013.XXX

Magerea Morrison Glenn, center,_Born Feb. 9, 1920, in Durham_1938 Graduated from Hillside High School_1946 Married Andrew Glenn Sr._1952-1984 Employed at Duke_1982 Widowed_Died Dec 31, 2012

PHOTO COURTSEY OF THE GLENN FAMILY

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  • Magerea Morrison Glenn Born Feb. 9, 1920, in Durham 1938 Graduated from Hillside High School 1946 Married Andrew Glenn Sr. 1952-1984 Employed at Duke 1982 Widowed Died Dec 31, 2012

Even in her 90s, Magerea Glenn was taking care of almost everyone in her family. She was not just the unofficial caregiver, but the caregiver when illness befell any of her sisters, children, cousins – even in-laws.

It had always been that way. When her mother got sick back in the 1970s, Glenn took a four-month leave of absence from her job to care for her mother as she died.

“She has been like that, ‘Nurse Madge’,” said her daughter, Dr. Cecilia Glenn of Hillsborough.

However, Glenn wasn’t a nurse. For 32 years she worked in administration at Duke University Hospital, first in medical records, then in the OB-GYN department. But it made sense that she would build her career in a hospital, where the mission was to take care of those in need.

It seems that Glenn, who died last month at the age of 92, built her life around the same principle. Though she was known for being rather quiet, more a listener than a talker, when she saw a need, she rose to meet it. That was true whether she was empowering her children with a love of learning or knitting caps for the newborns at local hospitals.

Born in Durham, Glenn was one of seven children raised in what used to be known as the North Durham neighborhood downtown. She became a member of Mount Gilead Baptist Church when she was about 6 years old, her family says, and remained active in the church until the end of her life.

Her father was a Methodist minister, and when he died during her teenage years, her mother started a family in-home laundry service.

“That’s how they sent each other to college,” said her son William Glenn, of Durham. All of the children in her family either attended or graduated from college, he said. His mother had attended the North Carolina College of Durham, now North Carolina Central University, for two years before leaving to get married. Her family thinks she would have majored in languages, for she spoke beautiful French and German by the time she finished high school.

She met her husband, Andrew Glenn, as a student when they both worked in clothing stores in downtown Durham. He was in the military, and she would stay in Durham with their growing brood while he was deployed elsewhere.

She brought up three children at a time when people of her color were not allowed to use the front door at some public establishments, could not eat at the same lunch counter as whites, and had to patronize separate shops to buy their clothing.

Glenn came from a family that strongly valued education – her mother had been a schoolteacher at one point – and she believed knowledge was the key to getting ahead in life, regardless of one’s color. She also believed in the value of experience, and so she, along with a number of her friends, started the Progressive Mother’s Club.

The club comprised a group of African-American women who strove to enlighten the lives of their children with what society had to offer. William Glenn can remember attending the North Carolina Symphony, going to the Ice Capades and visiting numerous historic battlegrounds throughout the South with this group of families. Magerea Glenn subscribed to dozens of periodicals, kept encyclopedias in the house and constantly encouraged her kids to read.

“They just wanted to be good mothers, and good mothers that teach,” he said.

“Education is power, and education is something they can’t take away from you,” she would say to him.

Glenn belonged to so many clubs, organizations and groups – all of them noble in their mission, many affiliated with her church – that it was hard to keep track of them all.

For nearly 30 years she was a member of the Daughters of Dorcas, an African-American charitable group that was started in 1917 by affluent and influential members of Durham’s black community. It started by donating milk and wheelchairs to Lincoln Hospital, and in Glenn’s day collected clothing for homeless people and knit caps for newborns.

“She never forgot a person’s birthday, never forgot special activities in people’s lives,” said Gloria Doyle, who serves as the group’s vice president. Glenn’s daughter is the president.

At Mount Gilead, she taught Sunday school, sang in the choir and was particularly involved in missionary work, working at the state and national levels, the Rev. David D. Mitchell said.

“Also, Ms. Glenn helped break the racial barrier in terms of bringing the whole community together,” he said. For decades Glenn had worked with members of white churches on various community-building activities.

“That was one of the things that set Ms. Glenn apart,” Mitchell said.

And that was one of the reasons Glenn so enjoyed working at Duke, her family said. The university and hospital had a long history of recognizing people for their skills and knowledge, offering equal pay and benefits long before the law decreed it.

She enjoyed working in the OB-GYN department, though her presence there surprised a number of her daughter’s friends over the years.

“My friends used to die, because I never told people what she did,” Cecilia Glenn said with a laugh. “But she did not utter a word to us” about why patients had visited the clinic, the daughter said.

Now that she is gone, her family is making do without a matriarch who led by example.

“She always managed to take care of everybody,” her son Andrew Glenn Jr. said.

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