Dr. Philip Matthew Mabe, Sr.
April 16, 1944 – April 27, 2020
Dr. Philip Matthew Mabe, Sr., a beloved professor of history for almost 50 years, died peacefully Monday morning at his home in Johnson City, Tennessee. He was 76.
The cause was leukemia. Mabe’s final days were spent in the quiet company of his loving wife of 51 years, Cassandra, and his two grown children, Cara and Matt, who traveled from New Orleans and Philadelphia to be with him at his bedside. Mabe had been hospitalized for several weeks, unable to receive visitors because of the restrictions due to COVID-19. He was released from the hospital on April 23 and delivered into the Lord’s heavenly embrace four days later.
For nearly half a century, Mabe taught history and civics in his adopted state of Louisiana. Most of those years were spent as an associate professor at Delgado Community College in New Orleans. History for Mabe was not merely a career. It was a calling and his life’s abiding passion. Mabe was enormously popular among his students and deeply respected by his colleagues. He was probably best known for his encyclopedic knowledge of America’s history, its founding, its system of government, and its wars. Mabe had a gift for making the topics he taught accessible and engaging. His favorite subjects included the framing of the U.S. Constitution, the Civil War, and World War II.
Mabe’s repertoire of knowledge was deep and broad. He could quote long passages from the Federalist Papers. His doctoral dissertation explored racial ideology in the New Orleans press during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Mabe possessed an incisive familiarity with U.S. federal case law, even though he wasn’t a lawyer and had never gone to law school. He could just as effortlessly recite from memory all 27 Amendments to the Constitution as he could T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. His favorite parlor trick was to ask for a U.S. president’s name and respond with the first and last year of that president’s term in office. He never once got it wrong—not even on Millard Fillmore.
Throughout his life, Mabe’s personal charisma endeared him to so many. He was funny. He was folksy. He was affectionate. He was a mesmerizing storyteller. Wherever he went Mabe could draw and hold an audience. “Now lemme tell you what,” was how he began many a stemwinder. A superlative command of English, a small-town North Carolina accent he never lost, and a seemingly bottomless reservoir of historical and personal anecdotes made his tales a joy to listen to, whether in a classroom or at a backyard barbecue. His special gift lay in personalizing his stories so that one felt he was the inheritor of secret wisdom. “Don’t tell anyone,” he might whisper, “You’re never gonna believe this.”
Above all, Mabe was a good man. He was humble, principled, gentle, and kind. He gave generously to charity and to restaurant workers alike. He never passed a beggar by. He never ever took for granted what he had and where he’d come from. Mabe’s life was a constant struggle to rise above the multi-generational scourge of having less, being less. So he paid his meager fortunes forward to men of means lesser still. He did all of this quietly, without expectation of reward or recognition. His favorite Bible verse from Acts puts it best. “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee.” Mabe knew he was flawed, fallen like us all. But he possessed a strong sense of right and wrong. Honor, integrity, fairness, and dignity were all ideals he strived to live by. Mabe worked hard, too, to inculcate these virtues into his children.
Philip Matthew Mabe was born on April 16, 1944, in Mooresville, North Carolina, the second son of William Matt Mabe and Texie Maud Dunlap. His parents worked on and off in the region’s local textile mills and were themselves the descendents of sharecroppers. Simple, hard-working, illiterate, and poor. That was how Mabe described his grandparents, always with a complicated mix of pride, embarrassment, sympathy, and reverence. Mabe loved to talk about his roots. Indeed, he dwelled on the past, fitting for a man who would fall so deeply in love with history. Mabe liked to point out that his parents were each the tenth of fifteen children and that his extended family included 108 first cousins alone.
Mabe and his older brother Darrell endured no different than most kids in a town in the 1950s-era South. A good day was pole-fishing at the creek or hijinks along the train tracks. More often it was fist fights, back-breaking work, and the soul-crushing miasma of low expectations. Mabe was variously loved, tormented, and protected by Darrell, who was the town tough guy and seven years Mabe’s elder. Sometimes the object of his brother’s rescue, other times the focus of his fury, Mabe just tried to survive it all.
From an early age, Mabe took to books. He would spend long hours at the library reading everything from Robinson Crusoe and Huck Finn to T.S. Eliot and C.S. Lewis. Bringing books home meant bearing the opprobrium of his brother, but he did it anyway. He would read into the night, the wood stove radiant. Sometimes, at breakfast, he would read to his dad, who couldn’t much. Once, when assigned to write and recite a poem for a grade-school English class, Mabe received a failing grade for plagiarizing another artist’s work. The poem Mabe had read actually was his own, but the point had been made: Excellence is suspect, don’t stick your neck out. Years later, Mabe’s father lost his patience at his talk of college. It was the cotton mill for their lot, forever and always. End of discussion.
Mabe disagreed. He did go to college, and he put himself through. After graduation from Mooresville High School in 1962, Mabe enrolled in Gardner–Webb Junior College in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. He earned an associate of arts degree there in 1964 before matriculating to High Point College, where he finished in 1966 with a bachelor of arts in history. In 1968, he earned a masters degree in history from Appalachian State University in Boone and immediately took his first full-time job teaching history at Shenandoah College in Winchester, Virginia.
It was in Boone that Mabe met the woman he would go on to marry. Cassandra Lee Pritchett, a pretty, young co-ed studying French and Spanish, spotted Mabe at a party. She was immediately taken in. Mabe was a harder case. For starters, he didn’t dance, but that didn’t bother his future wife. Mabe was earnest, disarming, and fascinating. He told her that night about his interest in attending seminary, and he was forthright about his ambivalence toward the war in Vietnam. In the end, he decided not to sign up for either.
The two eloped in 1969 and were married by a justice of the peace in South Carolina. Their only wedding gift: a bottle of champagne from a long-forgotten friend that the young couple turned into a makeshift candelabra. That bottle today and its gnarly melted wax are witness to one of the great love stories of our time.
After their wedding, the Mabes went crazy. They left behind family, friends, and opportunity in the Carolinas. They relocated to Lafayette, Louisiana—Cajun country—where Mabe began a doctoral program at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, while his bride taught French at a nearby high school. For the second time in two years, Mabe fell in love. French Louisiana was the perfect setting for his personality to thrive. A culture where the music, the food, the language, the bonhomie were currency, and in which the Mabes, desperately poor, at last felt rich.
In 1972, the pair moved to New Orleans, that most alluring of America’s great cities. There they would establish their careers, raise their children, and make their home for the next five decades. Mabe’s wife would receive her Ph.D. at Tulane and go on to teach French language, literature, and culture at Loyola University next door. Meanwhile, Mabe—now Dr. Mabe, an honorific he blushed at—took a teaching post in 1978 at Our Lady of Holy Cross College. Throughout the 1970s, the Mabes bounced from one apartment to another in uptown New Orleans, expanding their network of friends, reveling in the party scene, and becoming ever more seduced by the Carnival spirit of the Big Easy. They never wanted to leave.
In 1978, they bought their first house, a quaint post-war bungalow in a manicured working class neighborhood in Jefferson Parish, just on the outskirts of the city. Their first child, Philip, Jr., who goes by Matt, was born in 1980, followed shortly by a daughter, Cara, in 1983. Mabe was caring and playful with these children he’d had late. He enjoyed watching from the porch as they ran under the lawn sprinkler or swung merrily from a rope in the Sycamore out back or rode their bikes barefoot among the green lawns, rose bushes, and Japanese plum trees that filled the neighborhood. Mabe was fond of calling his children by nicknames like “Sashew” and “Bun,” monikers he continued to use until the end of his life. Probably because they kept him feeling young. He was a great dad.
In 1987, Mabe took a new job at Delgado Community College, where he would teach history and government until his retirement in 2014. Mabe became an indelible fixture at Delgado, earning accolades and adoration over the years from thousands of students, who saw Mabe not just as a teacher but a kind of father figure. He always made time for his students, especially those who were struggling at school or at home. Occasionally, Mabe would float a little money to those most hard up. Sometimes the loans were repaid. Sometimes not. Mabe chaired the Humanities Department at Delgado for a few years in the mid-90s, but the role wasn’t for him. Mabe never liked administration or officialdom. He just wanted to teach.
In 1990, Mabe moved the family a few miles further up the Mississippi to River Ridge, a shady New Orleans suburb notable for its azaleas, live oaks, and Spanish moss. He’d spotted the house a few months earlier on a leisurely drive through the area. “That’s the house I want,” Mabe said wistfully to no one in particular. The very idea of owning this indistinct little rancher on a pretty square plot of land was something of the culmination of a lifelong dream. Mabe would spend his middle and twilight years in this house. He loved to lie on the couch in the front room next to a picture window, facing the oaks his wife and children had planted when the trees were yet seedlings, always a stack of fresh library books on the coffee table nearby. Mabe never lost his passion for reading about America’s founding, its forgotten battles, and its heroes.
In 2001, the Mabes broke ground on a second home in Johnson City, Tennessee. Cassandra’s parents built the house hoping the Mabes would retire there some day. It worked. As time went on, they spent more and longer periods there in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. When the Mabes retired in the mid-2010s, it effectively became their primary home. On cool nights, Mabe liked to sit in a rocking chair on his deck that overlooked a wooded spur behind the property. The Indian Ridge, he called it. Occasionally deer would pass through whilst Mabe carried on about politics or about the state of the American Republic he loved so much or about his grandchildren, who he loved most of all.
Mabe’s children had long ago grown up, left home, and gone on to forge their own adventures. Mabe’s son, Matt, graduated from West Point and served several tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan as an Army officer. He has a nice life outside Philadelphia with his wife and three daughters. Mabe’s daughter, Cara, stayed in New Orleans, becoming an accomplished attorney. She lives there now with her husband and two-year-old son. For many years and until the end of his life, Mabe and his daughter continued to forge their special father-daughter bond through daily phone check-ins. Those will be missed.
Mabe’s son recalls a conversation he once had with his dad as a teenager. Mabe said, “If you remember nothing else I taught you, remember this: One—Life isn’t fair. Two—Nobody has the answer. And three—If you have one true friend in life, you’re lucky.” By that last measure, Mabe appears to have completed his brilliant life among the luckiest and happiest men in the world.
The Mabe family will hold a private service. Committal and Interment will be held in Monte Vista Memorial Park.
Condolences and memories may be shared with the Mabe family by visiting www.montevistafunerals.com
Family Will Hold A Private Service, Private Committal Service & Interment
Dr. Philip Matthew Mabe, Sr.
May 17, 2020
You may not remember me. I taught English while Phillip taught history for 10 years at Our Lady of Holy Cross College and for more than 20 years at Delgado. At Holy Cross Phillip's office was next to mine and we often talked about Phillip's favorite topic, WWII. I was impressed at his detailed knowledge of the war. One time I wanted to impress him with my prowess in literature, but when I turned the conversation to literature, Phillip proceeded to recite the long poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by heart, so I just kept quiet. Phillip was a popular teacher at Delgado. His honors course always filled up. He was a generous colleague and a good friend. I'm sure he will be missed.
May 4, 2020
To Cassandra, Matt and Cara, Please accept my deepest and most heartfelt condolences on the loss of your beloved husband (Cassandra) and father (Matt and Cara) . It was in the fall semester of 1989 at Delgado Community College that I first met Dr. Mabe. I was a student in one of his history classes. I discovered a kindred spirit in him because I finally met someone who loved and enjoyed history as much as I did. Even more than I did. I was truly honored when he and his family would stop by my place on Napoleon Ave in uptown New Orleans during the Carnival / Mardi Gras season. I was fortunate enough to become friends with Phillip and Cassandra and can remember back when Matt and Cara were both young kids. I am so grateful for the friendship that I had with Dr. Mabe and Cassandra over the years and also the kindness and hospitality they have given to me. And I enjoyed hearing about the truly outstanding and wonderful people that Matt and Cara have become as adults. May God keep and protect the immortal spirit of Dr. Phillip Matthew Mabe and may He keep, protect and bless the rest of the Mabe family, Cassandra, Cara and her family and Matt and his family. God bless you all.
Dr. Dianah C. Bradshaw
May 3, 2020
Texie, Phillip’s mom was a first cousin to my mother, Mary Jane Dunlap Cockman. I have seen him at family gatherings off and on through the years. We come from a rich family heritage of loving families who believed in reading and education. With great pride I read of Phillip and his family’s achievements. As the older Dunlap grandfather’s would have said “Job well done, son.” My heartfelt condolences go to the family, but oh, what memories you have to share.
May 2, 2020
Cassandra, Ronnie and I were saddened to learn of Philip's passing. We remember with great pleasure spending time with you and the family on Dart Street. You were wonderful neighbors to spend time with doing cook outs and watching our children play. Our prayers go out to you, Matt and Cara.
May 2, 2020
Out thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Mabe family during these trying times. I too think Phillip's obituary was one of the most beautiful things I've ever read. Phillip had a way about him that lit up a room instantly. I've treasured being neighbors with both Phillip and Cassandra and the many fun times we've had visiting after Mila and I went trick-or-treating on Halloween and Ms. Cassandra's amazing spreads of Cajun style cuisine. Phillip's obituary couldn't have been more spot on. He was absolutely the best story teller I've met in my life! From politics, to US and world history, to family and region history. Phillip new it all, and could recite it from memory. Phillip was an intellect in every sense of the word, absolutely brilliant. Though he wasn't proud or boastful. Honestly I had no idea he held a doctorate, which speaks to the humble man Mr. Phillip was. I treasured the time I was given with you my friend, but will not say goodbye. This is merely until I see you again. Thank you both for being amazing friends to my late grandmother. I know she cherished you and your company much the same way Mila and I do. We love you and are here to help in any way we can, and consider ourselves blessed to call you friends.
Jessica Michaud (Hierstein)
May 1, 2020
Cassandra, Matt, and Cara,
I’m so sorry to hear of Phil’s passing. He was such a fun and nice man. I remember many nights at your home. He always made me laugh. One of my first memories of New Orleans is standing at the mall at the Riverwalk when you three (strangers to me at the time) walked up and knew my name!! Phil and my dad had put you up to it and stood laughing as I tried to figure out how you knew me! It was the start of a wonderful friendship!
Sending love to all of you.
May 1, 2020
For Dr. Cassandra and family! What an amazing life experience! The moments and people that I've met sustains me to this day! I still attend the Christmas concerts at Loyola and think of you and Dr. Mabe! Having him as a professor was truly a blessing! The privilege was mine, thank you all! Dr. Mabe, an amazing gift to the world!
Always, Martha Jean Williams
Student at Delgado and Loyola University
April 30, 2020
Phillip often visited with our family near Carrigan Farms when we were teens. Our early years had been in the Cascade Mill community and our parents knew one another. He was a year younger than I and had a “ bit of a crush” on me at that time. He did have a quirky sense of humor and an insatiable thirst for historical facts. His passion for that field persisted into his adult life.
My husband and I were fortunate to visit Phillip and Cassandra in Louisiana during our travels. He was a great tour guide with historical tidbits -of course. I kept up with his children’s accomplishments through social media and knew how very proud he was of them both. I was truly shocked to see this information shared by a Mooresville High School classmate tonight. I had been aware of his health concerns.
My sincere condolences to his family. His was a life well lived filled with compassion and concern for his fellowman.
April 30, 2020
Dr. Mabe was my first supervisor in higher education. Taught me everything I use today! A great man, friend and true mentor!
April 30, 2020
From the French family,
We first met Philip’s family when Cassandra was in France with her children who went to the same school as ours. We became firm friends and went to visit Philip and Cassandra in New Orleans as soon as we could.
Our friendship has lasted over 30 years and we have met up with Philip and Cassandra on both sides of the Atlantic whenever we could. We are proud to have been able to attend the weddings of both their children.
We cherish our memories of Philip, and recall in particular taking him to visit the Normandy landing beaches which was a very special occasion for him given his interest in WW2.
Our thoughts are with Cassandra, Matt, Cara and their families, and we only wish that we could be there with you.
All our love,
Catherine, Colin, Aurélie and Nicolas
April 30, 2020
I was Philips neighbor. I remember going to the Halloween party’s and having the most fun. Also when I was little I would be riding my bike and going to their house and knocking on the door and getting candy almost everyday I could. My family loved him so so much. I’m so sorry.
Gene and Audrey Mabe
April 30, 2020
Gene and I met the Mabes in New Orleans in the late 1980’s. The guys discussed their ancestry as both were from the same general area of NC. No connection could be traced but they felt there must be one somewhere in past generations.
We visited many times and attended a Delgado Charity Auction with them.
We lost contact as we moved from New Orleans after Katrina.
Our condolences to all of Dr Mabe’s family.
April 30, 2020
I did not know Dr. Mabe, but I read my new town’s obituaries to get an idea of the kind of people who live here. The story of Dr. Mabe’s life was beautifully written, and he was a man of great character and was well-loved, especially by his family. I would have loved to have had him as a professor, as I love history as well. Dr. Mabe will be missed by so many, and his two children I’m sure will be raising their own children in a way that reflects their grandfather and his values. I pass on my condolences, to you, Dr. Mabe’s family.
Susan Kelly Blue, M.D.
April 29, 2020
Philip and I were great friends in high school. His intelligence and worldly views were a little intimidating even then. His caring friendliness and interest in everyone and everything were evident to all who knew him. I am so glad I got to see him and his wife at our fiftieth high school reunion in Mooresville a few years ago.
My thoughts are with all of his family.
April 29, 2020
Jean and I want to let you know that you and your family are in our prayers. Working for and with Dr. Mabe was always a pleasure and talking history with him was enjoyable. We both look back with pleasure to our visit to your house in Tennessee to "drop off the textbook" and touring Johnson City. He will be truly missed.
April 29, 2020
I owe Philip Mabe for the amazing life I have in New Orleans. In 2008 my life as I had always dreamed of in North Carolina was crashing down and I applied for a history instructor job a thousand miles away at Delgado Communitty College in New Orleans (a city I had never been to) and at that interview I met Dr. Mabe. We talked about North Carolina (he was born and raised there) and where I taught there and etc etc. Apparently after I left the interview I impressed him enough that he took out a map and pointed on it where I lived and where I worked and how my commute in NC was over an hour each way and how I must be a dedicated instructor. It was based on his recommendation that I be considered seriously for the position and was eventually offered the job in New Orleans. I found out this information about what Philip had done years later by a colleague but his confidence in me meant the world.
Now Philip and I agreed on very little about the subject of history but we admired our dedication to the craft. He called me the “Red Queen” I called him a relic to be treasured. He could entice you with his stories of the past and enthrall you with deep knowledge of history that was inspiring. To this day I am always trying to reach the level of storytelling he encompassed with ease.
When Philip retired I was happy for him to spend time with his beautiful wife Cassandra and his grown children.
In finding out Philip passed away this morning my immediate response was gratitude for knowing him. It is because of him I have everything I can imagine (my dream job and my friends and colleagues who are family)and so much more here in New Orleans and I owe it in no small part to him.
April 29, 2020
Dr. Mabe was a great professor and a greater man. He impacted generations of the Delgado family as a teacher, colleague, and friend.
April 29, 2020
Deepest sympathy in this sad time. My memories of Philip go back to when we first met when Cassandra and I were at Tulane together. We had good times together then and later when Philip and I were at Delgado. So sorry to hear this news.
April 29, 2020
We are not acquainted but I had to write to say the Obit you wrote for Dr. Mabe was beautiful.
It brought tears as it reminds me of my wonderful father. I, too, had a special relationship with my daddy. Serious daddy's girl. :)
Blessings and the Peace of Christ to all.
April 29, 2020
Cassandra so sorry for your loss I am praying for you and your family.
C otton and Vickie Ketchie
April 29, 2020
To Cassandra and the family of Phillip, we feel your loss. Philip was one of a kind and it was a special kind that we all loved and admired. We are so sorry to hear of his passing and mourn here in his hometown of Mooresville, North Carolina. I wrote a small obituary about him this morning on Facebook in hopes that more people will know the man we all loved and respected and held in high esteem. We will be thinking of you all in this difficult time and pray that some day, God will re-unite us all. I have attached a photo of one of our graduating class mini-reunions at the Golden Corral in Mooresville.
April 28, 2020
Philip and I grew up next door to each other in Mooresville, NC.. We played in the dirt. climbed trees, smoked out first cigarette together, and even joined Boy Scouts together. In later years he and Cassandra took my wife Evelyn and me to our first Mardi Gras.
When he returned to Mooresville for a visit one requirement was he had to have some good ole NC BBQ followed by DeLuxe Ice Cream. I'm sure St Peter met him at the Pearly Gates with a bowl of each. We will Miss you Philip.. God's speed.
April 27, 2020
Dr. Mabe was my absolute favorite professor at Delgado. He was a remarkable man who enriched the lives of anyone lucky enough to learn from him. Hearing of his passing breaks my heart. My utmost and sincerest prayers and condolences to his family, friends, and loved ones.