Ellen Strawbridge Yarborough

December 2, 1933January 13, 2018
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Reflections on Foundations and Influences, by Ellen S. Yarborough

For more than eighty years, Ellen Strawbridge Yarborough lived life as a Game. Games have structure, but leave room for initiative and new twists—and for ever-developing equipment, for teams of various sizes, and for changing pace according to the challenge of the situation and the skill of the players. [The Lord called a final time out for her on Sat. January 13, taking her peacefully in her sleep from her new home in Raleigh, allowing her to live well and play hard until the very end.]

As the healthy only child of a White United Methodist minister and his co-community-leader wife in a series of small southern farming communities, Ellen grew up conventionally. Her playfulness was supported by her affectionate parents and by friends at church and school, where she saw herself as able to behave and achieve. Like many in her white-privilege world, she first dreamed about doing “good” in the abstract, without noticing the social justice issues close to home. Ellen’s course was set when she learned to lead groups in folk dances, songs, and stories—along with mental challenges and spiritual explorations—through the Methodist Youth Fellowship, especially at summer teen weeks at Louisburg College. Her loving and mutually appreciative relationship with Dewey Yarborough—begun at Methodist Youth Fellowship sessions and continued through college years—led to their marriage one year after her 1955 graduation as a Re-creator from the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (now UNC-G).

For decades in Winston-Salem, Dewey and Ellen Yarborough were an active and committed Team, exploring God’s will and Society’s needs for discernment and personal responsibility. Their values were congruent, while their harmonies and the “teams” on which each played were sometimes similar, and sometimes complementary. They shared the love and guidance of their children Mark, Lynn, Bryan, and Beth—whose own values and competences (and those of their spouses and children) brought bright joy to both Dewey and Ellen. All meaningful games include challenges, growth, and balances, and the Yarboroughs found life to be full of opportunity for learning and for the kind of win-win-win experiences that added meaning to their relationships and situations.

After his death in 2008, the influence of Dewey’s Christian Love and Joy continued in Ellen’s life—and in the lives of their family: Mark and Valerie R. Yarborough, Sarah Yarborough and Victor Lytvinenko, Tim and Alex B. Yarborough; Lynn, Cary, Caroline, and Charlotte Saul; Bryan and Mandy Yarborough, Cameron and Erin (“Murphy”) Yarborough, Eliot and Lucy Burnhams; and Beth, David, Jacob, and Hannah Smoot.

Other forces guided Ellen’s growth personally, professionally, and spiritually—as she continued vigorously to play the Game of Life with its joys and challenges: her first job at the YWCA—with its emphasis on inter-racial respect and bridge-building—brought Ellen and Dewey to civic activism and systemic anti-racism, further bolstered within Christian associations. Counseling and mediation employment at Forsyth Mental Health, The Children’s Home, Blumenthal Jewish Home, and Trinity Center blessedly led to ordination as a United Methodist Deacon and service in Green Street Church, a multicultural reconciling United Methodist congregation. Also in Winston-Salem, Ellen’s sense of community found expression in the West End and West Salem Neighborhood Associations.

Throughout her career, Ellen identified her role and ministry as a Re-creator. Membership with Dewey in the Association for Couples in Marriage Enrichment (now Better Marriages) underscored the importance of working on intimate relationships throughout life. Her Rotary Scholar year in England with Drama Exemplar Dorothy Heathcote deepened her understanding of informal education. Service with the March of Dimes included a focus on maternal and infant health. Spiritual awareness of environmental challenge was a factor in her Stewardship of the Earth. Residence in Arbor Acres United Methodist Retirement Community—and near family in Raleigh after her May 2017 move—provided a healthy, supportive, and pleasurable environment, with the freedom to continue pursuing God’s will and discovering the right Games to be playing at each phase of her life.

As one who lived in the present, Ellen approached life not only as a Game, but also as Jazz, the art of finding new rhythms and harmonies, with these sustaining sayings:

“Love God and do as you please!” (Augustine of Hippo) and “Put everything in your life afloat upon God” (Oswald Chambers).

Service arrangements made by in Raleigh with a celebration of life, followed by an ice cream reception. A second Memorial Service will be held in Winston-Salem Sunday, January 28 at 2pm at Green Street UMChurch. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to,, or


  • Memorial Service

    Friday, January 19, 2018

  • Memorial Service

    Sunday, January 28, 2018


Ellen Strawbridge Yarborough

have a memory or condolence to add?

Adelaide Palermo

February 2, 2018

I was so sorry to hear about Ellen's passing. I worked with Ellen for many years at Trinity Center and always admired her ability to be at the same time both compassionate and straightforward. Her commitment to living out her faith was inspiring, as was her love of life and sense of fun. Ellen was truly one of a kind.

"Reeny" Colwell

January 29, 2018

Lynn, Mark, Bryan, Beth, and family, Please accept my prayers, thoughts, and sympathy as you remember your mother's amazing life. I would like to share my memories of both of your parents, which are all times of play. As Lynn's Pfeiffer roommate, I was lucky enough to be invited home with her. For Thanksgiving 1978, I remember a traditional family dinner. But afterwards, instead of watching football on TV, we all played football, on the field at the end of Brookstown Ave. What fun! For Easter 1979, Lynn, Dewey, and I went to God's Acre for the Easter Sunrise Service. Ellen played music with one of the bands gathering at God's Acre, marching in from one of seven places around W-S. It remains the most memorable Easter Service I have ever attended. My third memory is of a hot air balloon flight Ellen and Dewey took with Pete. I hope they felt inspired as they floated free of earthly ties. You all have a very special family with a very special bond. I am blessed to have been a part of your family gatherings. I will always be inspired by your parents. You all are in my thoughts and prayers.

Margaret Anna Robertson

January 29, 2018

I will miss your mom's open arms and ready smile that welcomed me into her life and family at any moment! I learned so much growing up with her wisdom, kindness, and never-wavering sense of justice and integrity in our world. Love and Peace to my Yarborough family.

Lisa Northup

January 23, 2018

She was a very special person and the world was a better place due to Mrs. Yarborough as I later learned to call her Yar. I know she is taking charge in heaven but I cant help but be selfish and feel a big lost here on earth. The heavens have gotten an outstanding lady. Lisa Northup

Irma Jackson

January 22, 2018

I will surely miss "Yar". She was always an interesting and delightful person and always open to " new possibilities". She loved life and it was all a game for her.She lived what she espoused and was always trying to get people to come for dinner when she was at Arbor Acres.It was a shock to read her obituary but she was a "blessing " to a great number of people.

Alice Fowler

January 21, 2018

I am sorry to say I just met Ellen in October of 2017. I found her to be very open and clear about her calling in life. We met through the Wings Book Club where we talked about some of life's racial issues. She brought a lot of experience and insight to the table which will be greatly missed. Prayers to the family and please continue to play the game of life with as much energy as Ellen did, its your move now.

Sarah Kahn

January 19, 2018

I didn't have the privilege of knowing her for very long, but Ellen was a wonderful neighbor. She often popped over to discuss gardening and my flower beds. She will be missed!

January 19, 2018

My first recollections of Ellen were during our freshman year at W.C. practicing gymnastic moves (she balancing me on her feet as I spread my arms as though in flight) during "closed study;" and as we, hesitantly putting on the obligatory wool tank suits, learned to swim. The summer following was spent at Camp May Flather in Virginia "posing" as counselors to the Girl Scouts from the Washington, D.C. area.

In thinking about the fragility of life it made me come to the realization that in the deepest recesses of my mind I thought Ellen--large in stature, blessed with abundant energy and intelligence, with a devoutness of character beyond comprehension--would live forever! I truly believe that her reward for her wonderful life was "slipping into heaven" quietly in sleep. She will be sorely missed!

Blessings to her family...Norma Cofer Witherspoon, '55

Ward Miller

January 18, 2018

To the family of Ellen Yarborough:
Ellen and I became friends when I volunteered with the Triad Chapter March of Dimes over 30 years ago. She was a great mentor and friend to me and my wife. We traveled all across the United States attending events for the March of Dimes. We were invited to her home at Arbor Acres on many occasions for dinner. The week before she was to move to Raleigh she invited Vicki and I for dinner at Arbor Acres. After dinner we had ice cream her most favorite dessert. She offered a tour of her apartment and an opportunity to play assorted games. We will miss her wit, intellect and most of all her warm and pleasing personality. She was always willing to help others and her strong faith in God was evident in how she made people feel. Thanks for sharing this rare jewel with us! Ward and Vicki Miller

Kathryn Weir Hemming

January 18, 2018

To me, Ellen was fiercely passionate about two things: her family and her faith, and she was blessed with both.
I first met Ellen and Dewey in 1979, but don't remember anything of that time. The stories, however are rich and numerous, because they formed strong friendships with the people they met there and had such a positive impact on the lives of so many - myself included.
My family have enjoyed knowing Ellen and her whole family since then: I first visited Winston Salem and played with her in the dawn chorus, and then have been meeting up with (and living with) various family members both in England and America ever since.
It seems appropriate that my first memory of Ellen is churning ice cream with her in her back yard in 1984 and my final memory is sharing ice cream with her and many family members at our progressive dinner in Raleigh last summer.
So actually, maybe that's 3 things: family, faith and ice-cream. What an incredible woman. I loved her very much and am incredibly grateful for the lifelong friendships she created.