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Mary Simms Furman leaves generous legacy

When Furman awarded Mary Simms Oliphant Furman an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree in 2007, it recognized her as a “dignified and intellectually vibrant woman” who demonstrated “a lifelong love of learning, and a lifelong generosity to her community and her alma mater.” With her husband Alester G. Furman III, a member of the university’s founding family, she contributed much toward the betterment of the school and the community.

When she died January 22 in Greenville, she left an extensive educational, civic and cultural legacy.

She was the great-granddaughter of William Gilmore Simms, the South’s leading antebellum poet, novelist and historian. She and her mother, Mary Simms Oliphant, were co-authors of several editions of The History of South Carolina and South Carolina: From the Mountains to the Sea, textbooks used by generations of students in the state.

Mrs. Furman was influential in developing Greenville’s first arts festival and worked on a number of local restoration projects. She was active in the Carolina Foothills Garden Club and the Junior League, serving both as president, and with her husband provided generous support to the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, the Upcountry History Museum, the S.C. Nature Conservancy and Greenville’s Peace Center for the Performing Arts. She was a member of the Tuesday Study Club, the Cercle Franco Américain, the Debutante Club of Greenville, the Assembly and the Quadrille.

She attended Greenville Woman’s College for two years in the late 1930s, then studied for a year at the Sorbonne in Paris before earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina. She later received a master’s in French literature from the University of North Carolina, where she performed with the Martha Graham Dance Company.

She helped plan and design several Furman buildings, including Daniel Chapel and Earle Infirmary. Furman Mall, the main campus thoroughfare, is named for her and her husband. Their four daughters established a scholarship at the university in honor of their parents.

In addition to her daughters, Mrs. Furman is survived by five grandchildren, two step-grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and one step great-grandchild.

Memorials: Mary Simms Oliphant and Alester Garden Furman III Scholarship at Furman; Christ Church Episcopal, 10 N. Church St., Greenville 29601; or a charity of one’s choice.

Last updated March 1, 2013
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Clinton Colmenares
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