As a Depression-era child in Elizabeth City, Nell Kahdy was one of those students who craved foreign languages the way others might need athletics or art.
For 38 years, Kahdy worked in the North Carolina public school system. Raised hearing her immigrant family speak Lebanese, she taught French and sang in Greek; her family says she was the first in the state to teach German. She broadened the lives of countless students throughout the state by organizing and chaperoning trips around the world, and enriched others simply by caring about them.
Kahdy, who died this month, pursued her career while raising three children, including twins, all with a smile and optimism cherished by her family. Retiring in 1980, she kept busy, partly by keeping in touch with students long after they had both moved on.
“The more you are needed, the more needs you can fill,” she told the News & Observer in 1953.
Her family moved to Raleigh when she was in high school, and her father, a merchant in Elizabeth City, ran a restaurant called the Log Cabin, a favorite spot for soldiers during the war.
After earning degrees in English and foreign languages at Meredith College, Kahdy began teaching spending most of her her career in classrooms at Broughton High School, where she headed the foreign languages department.
Dr. William Dunlap was president of the 1957 Broughton senior class, with Kahdy as class advisor. He also became one of four former students to serve as her physician. “Although I attended Broughton for five years, I never sat in Ms. Kahdy’s classes for one minute,” Dunlap said. “But her influence extended far beyond the classroom,”
In 1964 Kahdy become involved with the American Institute for Foreign Study and began organizing summer trips abroad, developing a close relationship with the French town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz.
Her husband of 71 years, George Kahdy, shared an esteemed teaching career as well. “She was a very active teacher who involved the students in more than just textbook activities. She genuinely loved the students,” George Kahdy said. “She wanted them to excel.”
Nell Kahdy worked as he went through college after his military service ended following World War II. Then they earned alternating graduate degrees at UNC-Chapel Hill.
“They loved education as a way to get to the American dream,” said daughter Barbara Estes.
Her children reflect with awe on how progressive their mother was.
“They felt they were part of the world, they wanted their children to know there was a bigger place than their little daily worries,” Estes said of her parents.
In her later years Kahdy fought, and beat, breast cancer, but developed dementia. George Kahdy’s devotion knew no bounds, her family said. “She was the most optimistic person in the family,” her husband said.
“She really did think she could make the world a better place and I think she achieved that,” Estes said.
Nell Mettrey Kahdy
Born April 30 in Elizabeth City.
FAMILY: Marries George Kahdy in 1944, children: daughter Barbara Estes, twins Dr. George Kahdy and Georgette Stone, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
EDUCATION: Majors in English and foreign languages at Meredith College and UNC.
CAREER: Serves as a translator for the American Red Cross during World War II, and teaches foreign languages for 38 years, retiring in 1980. Teaches French and German at Needham B. Broughton High School for the majority of her career; first in state to teach German. The Foreign Language Association honors her as one of the country’s 16 most superlative teachers.
Dies July 6, in Chapel Hill