Muriel Durley, compassionate former educator and Providence first lady, dies at 76

Muriel Durley with the Rev. Al Sharpton (left) and the Rev. Gerald Durley. Muriel Durley died at age 76.
Muriel Durley with the Rev. Al Sharpton (left) and the Rev. Gerald Durley. Muriel Durley died at age 76.

As the first lady of Providence Missionary Baptist Church, Muriel E. Durley was a compassionate presence.

Pictures show her with the Rev. C.T. Vivian, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Al Gore and media mogul Ted Turner at various community events.

“ She was the same with everyone,” said Hasan Durley, her son. “She never put on any airs. She spoke the same way to people from the highest walks of life to the lower walks of life. She never was one to be in the spotlight, but she always had a big presence.”

Durley, a former educator, died Jan. 8. Her funeral was held at the church, but was also livestreamed on the church’s Facebook page.

Among those at her side when she died was her husband of 50 years, the Rev. Gerald Durley, pastor emeritus of Providence.

Durley was a native of Charlotte, N.C., the second of three children. Soon after she was born the family moved to Hempstead, N.Y. where she grew up.

She attended Fisk University where she was a member of the French club and pledged Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. She was elected president of the sorority’s Fisk chapter during her senior year.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in foreign language and set her sights on the world, becoming an exchange student. In Neuchâtel, Switzerland, she would meet her future husband, who played for the national team.

Once back in the United States, Durley became the first Black customer service representative overseeing international accounts for Xerox.

The Durleys wed in 1968 and lived in several cities, including Dekalb, Ill. and Washington, D.C. before moving to Atlanta.

Hasan said his mother also ran her own ceramic business, creating beautiful pieces that she sometimes displayed and sold at ceramic shows. Years later, she would also start a gift basket business.

His mother’s steady presence complemented that of her extroverted husband, said Hasan Durley.

“There was no need for her to be in the forefront,” he said. “When people met her and talked to her, they realized she was a force unto herself. She was definitely her own person. They were separate entities who worked well together.”

In addition to ceramics, Durley said his mother loved to read and one of her favorite authors was Danielle Steel.

In Atlanta, Muriel Durley taught at the elementary school level for eight years. She understood the importance of molding young minds early and ensured her students were well prepared, according to the family obituary.

Besides her husband, she is survived by her daughter, Nia Durley Dozier(Atlanta); her son, Hasan Durley (Atlanta); her grandchildren, Tai (Morgan) Dozier (California), Tori Dozier (New Jersey), Niara Durley (Atlanta), and Jelani Durley (Atlanta); her two great-grandchildren, Zia and Zara (California); her brothers, Charles P. West (New York), Gilbert (Sonia) West (California).

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