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 Margaret (Newbern) Fowler
(1908 - 1994)

Sir Nicolaus Koni, sculptor of the bust of Walter Newbern, and Margaret Fowler

     Margaret Newbern was born August 24, 1908 at Powells Point, N.C. to Walter Scott Newbern, Jr. and Mattie Leigh Relfe Newbern.
     Walter Scott Newbern, Jr. was born February 22, 1878 at Powells Point and died March 25, 1929 at Powells Point.  He was the son of Walter Scott Newbern, who was born October 29, 1847 at Powells Point and died September 7, 1918 at Asheville, N.C., where he and his wife maintained a summer home. Walter Scott Newbern was married to Elvira Etheridge, daughter of Nathan and Luraner O'Neal Etheridge.  Elvira Etheridge Newbern was born November 3, 1849 at Powells Point and died February 28, 1933 at Elizabeth City, N.C.  Walter and Elvira were also the parents of Belle Newbern (1876 - 1920), who was married to Charles H. Brock (1872 - 1936), and Lizzie Newbern (1886 - 1971), who was married to Nathan G. Bray (1886 - 1967).  A third daughter was Lula Newbern who married Nathan Poyner (1869-1929).  Margaret was in Asheville in 1929 when she received news that her father had died.  She traveled by train, making connections for two days, to come home to Powells Point to make arrangements.  The minister at Hebron Methodist Church refused to officiate at her father's funeral, since he considered her father a sinner because he had drunk heavily and womanized.  A Rec. Mashburn at the Christian Church at Harbinger agreed to officiate at the services.  Margaret was deeply hurt by this and never was active at Hebron again.  Walter Scott Newbern, Elvira Etheridge Newbern, Walter Scott Newbern, Jr., Belle and Charles Brock, Lizzie and Nathan Bray, are all buried at the Newbern-Olds Cemetery at Olds Hill, Jarvisburg, N.C.
     Mattie Leigh Relfe Newbern was the daughter of Leonidas C. Relfe of Jacocks, N.C. (Durant's Neck) and Mary Elizabeth Keaton Relfe.  Mattie Leigh came to Powells Point as a school teacher and attended Hebron Methodist Church where she met Walter Scott Newbern, Jr.  The couple was married July 3, 1900 at the Methodist Church at New Hope.  They first lived in Elizabeth City and moved to Powells Point in 1904.  Walter and Mattie owned two homes in Powells Point--one was just south of the Walter & Elvira Etheridge Newbern home which is currently owned by Mrs. Verdie Newbern.  This house is an East Lake style house, facing north, along the shore at the mouth of North River at Newbern's Landing.  The house was later owned by the Killingsworths.  The other house was about a mile south of the Powells Point Post Office where it is the current home of Cindy Cox, widow of Roy Phillip Newbern, and her current husband, Dr. James Owens reside.  This was a two-story house with Victorian trim.  The stables stood across the road until recently.  While living at this house, Margaret became quite close to an old black man, who she knew as Uncle Jordan (pronounced "Jerden") Fisher, who along with Debbie Gordan, looked after her and her brother.  Walter Newbern, Jr. has a farming operation at Powells Point where he owned land from sound to sound.  In Elizabeth City he was principal investor in a Reo automobile and Mack truck dealership, and he was also principal stockholder and secretary of the North River Line, headquartered in Jarvisburg, which owned the Annie L. Vansciver.  When the children were in high school, Mrs. Mattie Newbern lived during the week in Elizabeth City so that the children could attend Elizabeth City High School, and they came home to Powells Point on Friday evenings on the Vansciver.
     Debbie Gordan was a dwarfed and deformed black woman who had been raised by Nathon Frances Owens (Mrs. Norris Baum Owens of Jarvisburg).  After Mrs. Owens died, Mrs. Mattie Newbern took Debbie in her home and she remained with her in Powells Point, and after Walter Jr. died in 1929, Debbie went to live with the family in Durham.  Mattie ran a boarding house for Duke University students, mainly medical students.  My father was fortunate to be able to room there during the 1932-33 school year.  She was very fond of the men who roomed there and called them "my boys".  Needless to say, Debbie's boys were always given lots of extra food, snacks, and treats.  Debbie died in 1941 at Duke University Hospital while being cared for by her boys.
     A brother, Walter Relfe Newbern, was born in 1912 to Walter Jr. and Mattie.  He received his medical degrees at Duke University and Tulane University, and practiced medicine in Palm Beach, Florida.  He married a nurse, Shirley Gay Stimson from Statesville, N.C., and their children are Gay Lehman of Des Moines, Iowa, and Scott Newbern of Tallahassee, Florida.  Walter Relfe Newbern died in 1988 and the Walter R. Newbern Memorial Pavilion is in St. Mary's Hospital in West Palm Beach, Florida.
     Margaret and her brother moved to Durham, N.C. where her mother moved after she and Walter Newbern, Jr. were divorced.  Margaret attended Louisburg College and received a degree in medical technology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.  Her first marriage was to a McDade of Orange Co., N.C.  Her only child, Jack McDade, was born of this union which soon ended in divorce.  Jack McDade was raised by his father's family near Chapel Hill.  After her divorce, Margaret managed a tourist lodge at Salem, Virginia.  Later she removed to Philadelphia, Pa. where she pursued a career in medical technology at hospitals in that city.  She was married next to a man named Bailey who was a metallurgist.  They were divorced and later remarried, then divorced again.  Next she married Russell Sage Fowler, vice-president of the Woodbury Trust Co. in Woodbury, N.J.  Together they operated an insurance agency in addition to his position at the bank and owned an entire city block of rental cottages in Cape May, N.J.  Russell Fowler died in 1963.
     Margaret cared for her mother during her last illness and Mrs. Mattie Relfe Newbern died at Margaret's home in Woodbury, N.J. on September 23, 1943.  Margaret remember the sad ordeal of bringing her mother's body home for burial.  From Camden, N.J., Mrs. Newbern's casket was placed on the train in Philadelphia.  Laws required the train to stop at each state line, the casket had to be opened and an authority from the state being entered boarded the train and inspected the casket and it's contents and checked and approved all paperwork.  Margaret was required to be present at each one of these inspections.  Boots Ziegler met Margaret with a hearse when she got off the Chesapeake Bay Ferry and brought Margaret and her mother's body on the last leg of the journey home to Elizabeth City.
     In 1965, Margaret sold all her property in N.J. and moved to Islamarado, Florida in Monroe County in the Keys.  She had an extensive shell collection which she had gathered on Sanibel Island.  She also enjoyed visiting Hialeah and betting on the horses.  In 1975 she returned to North Carolina to have cancer surgery at UNC Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill, and consequently moved to Harbinger to be near her doctors.  Her recovery was successful, and she went back to work, this time as a night auditor at the Holiday Inn in Kill Devil Hills.
     In the 1950's Margaret had become friendly with Madge McPherson Thacker, and had spent considerable time researching family histories in northeastern North Carolina.  After returning to Harbinger, Margaret continued her research effort of the various families which she was tracing.  She served as president of the Currituck County Historical Society.  She liked to visit Florida each winter to enjoy the warmer climate and see her friends.
     Margaret continued to work into 1992, and in early 1993 her only child, Jack, died.  In May 1994 Jack's first wife and the mother of Margaret's four grandchildren visited from Houston, Texas.  This visit brightened Margaret's last days.  Lizzie Bowe cared for Margaret, cooking meals for her, cleaning, and driving her.  Margaret was planning for me to drive her to Cape May after Labor Day.  Her health continued to deteriorate and she died at home at Harbinger on Sunday, July 8, 1994.  She is buried at Old Hollywood Cemetery in Elizabeth City, N.C. with her mother and grandparents.
     I had known Margaret Newbern Fowler since I was about ten years old.  When her two first cousins, Mary Onella Brinn and Mattie Broughton, were settling Margaret's estate, we all met one day and remembered Margaret.  We all agreed that she was one of the most intelligent people that we had ever know.  I will always remember her as a warm and caring person who loved the salt marshes of Cape May, N.J., the splendor of tropical South Florida, but who always said she was "of Currituck".

Article by Roy Sawyer, Jr. - April 15, 2003

Photograph & biography submitted by Roy E. Sawyer, Jr.  No part of this document may be used for any commercial purposes. However, please feel free to copy any of this material for your own personal use and family research. Images are for personal use only, not for redistribution.