Marty Mandell


By Laurie Paolicelli

Marty always commanded local leaders and listeners to her Pine Street home to discuss ecology, economy, and the environment, while enjoying wine, hot bread, and southern supper.

“A wise woman does not keep her wisdom to herself. She shares wisdom with the world, because she knows that through wisdom, many lives can be transformed.” ― Gift Gugu Mona, a poet, philosopher, songwriter and philanthropist.

Ecological awareness first appears in the human record at least 5,000 years ago. Sanskrit literature praised the wild forests in their hymns, Taoists urged that human life should reflect nature’s patterns, Buddha taught compassion for all sentient beings, and Carrboro resident Marty Mandell pleaded for ecological awareness from her landline phone at 116 Pine Street to any Orange County leader who would listen.

After pleading, and dropping a few choice words, Marty would invite whoever was on the other side of the telephone to come over for supper. Typically, she would set a table with whatever serving utensils she had available and dish up her specialties: spinach bread, chicken, soup, baked goodies, and whatever southern delicacies she could muster up.

Former Carrboro Mayor, Lydia Lavelle, would lend her ear and time to listening to Marty’s requests for land preservation and sound land use management.

Marty’s beliefs were focused on nature and gentle living, but her message wasn’t always delivered with the same gentility. She had her favorite swear words that, uttered by an elder with such a proper upbringing, could be shocking.

All the better to make her ethos clear. She wanted our schoolchildren to be eating fresh food from local farms. She wanted electric buses. She’d rail against poorly timed stoplights, forcing her to burn more carbon than necessary with all the stopping and going. And do get her started about organic farming, alternative energy, and education — a passion beautiful to behold.

Resident Linda Haac says of Marty: “She was one of the guardians of Carrboro’s sense of place and its commitment to environmental activism and social justice. With her indomitable spirit, she helped to shape the town that she called home for many decades.”

Strong, tough, and the sweetest southern accent and manners out there. Maybe that’s why she attracted such a cast of characters to her Carrboro home on a regular basis.

Friends and neighbors were always on the scene helping Marty. Ava and Seth Elliott, with Nerys Levy, Rachel Elliot and Laura DeRusha.

Haac continues: “Some 25 years ago, she alone organized Carrboro’s Solar Day with her usual exuberance. She served on the Carrboro 2020 Vision Committee in 2000 and on the Orange County Future Task Force in 2010. She supported Friends of the Orange County Library, the Mildred Council Community Dinner, and the Carolina Farm Stewardship Alliance. She served on Friends of Bolin Creek (FOBC) to secure the rest of the Bolin Creek corridor and its forest as a contiguous natural preserve. I was a big fan and was often surprised at the large group of friends she maintained.”

Marty spent her adult life in North Carolina after attending Virginia Intermont College, Greensboro College, and the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, where she graduated with a BA in Arts and Education and an award-winning talent for painting in oils.

Marty purchased her home on Pine Street in 1956 and lived there until her death in 2021. From 1965 – 1971, she taught at Orange Junior High School, the first art teacher to be hired by Orange County Schools. She was an avid consumer of fiction, non-fiction, crossword puzzles, and Tar Heel basketball. Marty was married to Harold Richard “Dick” Mandell, also an artist, from 1965 to 1969.

Val Martinez with neighbor Bethany Chaney looked in on Marty, providing food, help around the house and soothing presence, always.

Tenacious women leaders like Marty helped improve lives and inspire a better future for all.

Let’s raise a glass and lean-in and listen to what our wise elders have to say.

Susan Halkiotis and Tony Greco joined friends of Marty at her backyard Memorial service organized by neighbors and friends.

Friends will gather at 3:00 pm on November 12th for an informal dedication of the bench and then gather at the Wilson Park pavilion for drinks and snacks.

On June 27th, the Town of Carrboro approved a bench memorial monument to be installed at Wilson Park in honor of Marty Mandell’s contributions to Carrboro and Orange County. The bench will have a plaque that reads: Martha “Marty” Mandell, 1927-2021. In loving memory of a true friend and guardian of Carrboro and Orange County, who advocated for alternative energy, organic farming, watershed protection, and arts in education. She is remembered here for helping secure this Adams Preserve for future generations.”

The bench was paid for by donations from friends and family. A Cary craftsman, Craig DeCicco, was commissioned to build the cedar-slab bench as he had built similar memorial benches for the Town of Chapel Hill.

The bench will be installed next week by the Town of Carrboro Public Works along the bike path near the tennis courts facing one entrance to the Adams Preserve trail system.

Laurie Paolicelli is executive director for the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, a position she has held since 2005. Laurie has worked in tourism and marketing for twenty-five years, having served in leadership roles in Houston and California convention and visitor bureaus. She is a native of the Twin Ports of Duluth, MN/Superior Wisconsin. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business and Communications from the University Wisconsin-Superior and graduate certification in Technology In Marketing from the UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

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