By Carla Morris
NBC’S TODAY Show recently featured Greenville University Distinguished Alumna Mary Taylor Previte ’53 as part of its “Life Well Lived” series. The segment appeared in response to Previte’s death November 16. She was 89.
Previte, the daughter of Christian missionaries in China, spent part of her childhood in an internment camp during Japan’s World War II occupation of China.
Recalling the story, The Philadelphia Inquirer noted Previte’s deep gratitude for her teachers, who also were interned, and for the U.S. paratroopers who helped free her.
“I’m telling you, we lived a miracle where grownups preserved our childhood,” she said.
Life of Service
Previte went on to serve in the New Jersey General Assembly and advocate for youth. She headed efforts to meet the needs of children and youth as administrator of a youth detention center in Camden, New Jersey. She turned the center into a national model for youth reform and recounted her work in a book, Hungry Ghosts (Zondervan, 1994).
NPR recalled Mary’s 30 years working with at-risk youth by reposting previous interviews with her that initially appeared as part of its Fresh Air series. At the invitation of host Terry Gross, Previte shared her formula for success: create a world for youth that is “comfortingly predictable” with known expectations and schedules, and known routines and responsibilities.
“Our children are living in an unpredictable world that is so frightening because they don’t know when they put their foot down on any day whether it’s going to be solid or when it’s going to be squishy. No child can feel safe in a world like that.”
Resilience and Gratitude Modeled
“She lived a life of self-reinvention,” said The New York Times of Previte’s capacity for resilience in the face of challenge.
In recent years, Previte gained notoriety for fulfilling her personal mission of thanking her liberators face to face.
The fall 2016 issue of GU’s alumni magazine The RECORD recounted Previte’s reunion in China with liberator Wang Chenghan, 71 years after their last encounter. The pair’s reunion marked the end of Mary’s 18-year quest to locate and thank each member of the rescue team.
“It is the end of a dream to actually have found all of the heroes and have an opportunity to see them face to face,” she said. “It’s really an opportunity to say thank you.”
Previte was name GU Distinguished Alumna in 1993.
A Revolutionary Upbringing – Alumnus Enoch Poon ’86
The Long Way to China – Alumna Wilma Kastens ’47
The Voice That Trumps Reason and Worldly Values – President Ivan Filby
Calling: There For the Summer, Stayed 22 years – Tom Belser Brown ’79
When you fund a GU scholarship, you empower students for lives of character and service. Thank you for giving.