Mary Ellen Soles
Mary Ellen Soles
  • August 2, 1948 - January 4, 2018
  • Greensboro, North Carolina

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Mary Ellen Carr Soles, former Curator of Ancient Art at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, is dead at 69. She served as Curator at the Museum for 28 years and transformed its minor collection of ancient art into one of national significance. In her expansion of the collection she was aided first by Gordon and Copey Hanes of Winston-Salem whom she persuaded to donate their own collection of antiquities and after their passing she launched the Friends of Greek Art, an organization of North Carolinians of Greek heritage which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for museum acquisitions. In her expansion of the collection she travelled the world and had many adventures, but was also adamant that the Museum follow the guidelines of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on Cultural Property and the Code of Ethics of the Archaeological Institute of America, and this is because she was also an archaeologist who worked as cataloger and registrar on her husband's excavation in Crete and realized the damage that the unscrupulous collection of antiquities does to the world's common cultural heritage. Mary Ellen's special academic and professional interest was Greek and Roman art. She wrote her dissertation on statues of Aphrodite and was especially proud of the fact that she was able to locate the head of the Museum's Aphrodite of Cyrene in the Museum's basement and restore it to the Museum's statue, making it the only example of its type with its head still preserved in situ. Her parting purchase for the Museum and the people of North Carolina, which she made with not a little humor, was a large Red-figure krater, used to mix water and wine, showing satyrs misbehaving badly on its side.

Mary Ellen was also a woman of far-ranging professional and civic accomplishments and influence. In addition to her work with the collection at the Museum, she curated visiting shows, including Women in Classical Antiquity and Temples and Tombs of Ancient Egypt, and led Museum sponsored trips to Egypt and South America. Over the years she taught courses on Ancient Art and Museum Studies both at the graduate and undergraduate levels at Duke, Chapel Hill, and UNCG. At home in Greensboro she was constantly engaged in civic causes from the Neighborhood Association Board of her beloved Fisher Park to the Greensboro Human Relations Commission. As might be expected, her volunteer activities centered often on the introduction of art to the public realm. She coordinated a project between the NC Museum and Moses Cone Hospital to create a gallery of rotating art works at the Cancer Center of Greensboro and worked with a group at Piedmont International Airport to install a number of paintings and sculptures which welcome visitors to the Triad. She also worked as a volunteer at the Green Hill Gallery.

Mary Ellen was a long-time and devoted member of The Friday Afternoon Club and counted the members of that group among her closest friends. She will be remembered by all her friends as a woman of grace, elegance, kindness, and sharp wit. She loved beauty and she saw beauty in her family, her friends, and everywhere in the world around her. She faced the final challenge of her illness with courage and humility. Her passing has created a void that will not soon be filled.

Mary Ellen was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on August 2, 1948, to John Leo and Marguerite Cahill Carr. She grew up on Fresh Pond Parkway in Cambridge and attended Mount Trinity High School. She received her BA from Manhattanville College in 1970 and her PhD in Classical Art and Archaeology from Yale University in 1976. She met her husband, Jeffrey Soles, while studying on a Yale fellowship at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, married him in 1974, and moved with him to Greensboro in 1977 when he took a position in the Classical Studies Department at UNCG. Her greatest pride and passion was her family. Her children Abigail and John and Abby's husband Mike, were the light of her life. In recent years the birth of three grandchildren, Penelope, Christopher, and little Mary Ellen, expanded that joy exponentially. Her marriage to Jeff was marked by mutual devotion and romantic affection. He was always her prince.

She is survived by her husband Jeffrey, her daughter Abigail Zimmerman, son John Leo Soles, son-in-law Mike Zimmerman, grandchildren Penelope, Christopher, and Mary Ellen Zimmerman, brother Stephen Carr, sister-in-law Jeanie, and nieces Maggie and Julia.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at St. Pius the Tenth Church on Friday, 2210 North Elm Street, January 12th at 11 AM followed by a gathering at her home at 212 South Park Drive.

In lieu of flowers, please donate in honor of Mary Ellen to the Multiple System Atrophy Association at

Hanes Lineberry North Elm Chapel is assisting the Soles family.