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Mayna Nance
Mayna Nance
Mayna Nance
Mayna Nance
Mayna Nance

Obituary of Mayna Avent Nance

Mayna Avent Nance, of Sewanee, Tennessee, passed away May 13, 2020 in Signal Mountain, Tennessee at the age of 87 from complications after a fall late last year. She led a full and eventful life and, until late last year, was living independently with her husband Walter Nance. Her story is one that is intertwined between Tennessee and China with paths via New York and Virginia. Mayna Rose Avent was born on June 17, 1932 in Tientsin (Tianjin) China, the daughter of Standard Vacuum Oil of China (later Mobil Oil) manager James Avent, Sr., of Nashville, Tennessee and Jeanette nee’ Nelson of Dekalb, Illinois. Apart from the interregnum of the Second World War, the Avents lived in several cities in China until 1949, including Tientsin, Tsingtao, and Shanghai. During the Second World War, Mayna lived with her family in New York and returned to Shanghai after the war, living there until 1948. In 1949 her parents returned to the town of her father’s alma mater, the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. There they purchased a grand house overlooking Lost Cove, establishing a long-term family base from that time until 2020. It was during the China years that Mayna’s Auntie Harriet met and married a young Annapolis graduate named Dudley “Mush” Morton. Morton went on to command the famed WWII US submarine Wahoo. While the Avents were living in Tsingtao, China, in a house on the coast of the Yellow Sea, Jim Avent flew an American flag on a flagpole overlooking the ocean. In 1943, during the height of war between Japan and the US, Morton was able to clandestinely reveal Wahoo’s patrol area, which are normally secret, when he wrote in a letter home to Mayna and the Avents “I saw your flagpole today.” Mayna’s children grew up hearing stories of China from this time ranging from military battles and epidemics to Mayna’s father meeting local leaders and facing mortal danger. Many other stories were more lighthearted. Such as how her father ended up in China in the first place in 1919, after going to the wrong personnel department at Standard Oil in New York. Or when, after the War, Mayna, her mother, sister and brother arrived back in Shanghai via ship from New York to rejoin her father, bringing a frozen turkey and an air conditioner - the latter they believed was one of the first in Shanghai. The summer heat and humidity in the city were so unbearable that Mayna, her sister, and brother would quietly sneak into the master bedroom at night where the air conditioner was located. She would brag that she paid 200,000 dollars for a hotdog in Shanghai in 1948 (hyperinflated Chinese dollars that is). Mayna was an active artist throughout her life. Drawing inspiration from her father’s mother, noted artist Mayna Treanor Avent, Mayna Nance expressed herself in a variety of media including oil painting, drawings, pastels, ink etching, watercolors, photography, and printing of various types using wood block, linoleum, and metal etching. She attended the Parson’s School of Design in New York. Mayna met her first husband, Daniel MacKinnon of Oshkosh, Wisconsin while attending Wayland Academy in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. With Dan, she had three children, Michael, Andrew, and Bryan, all born in Los Angeles. They later settled in Sewanee and then in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Mayna’s second husband is Dr. Walter E. Nance. The Nance and Avent families have been friends for many years, starting from the days in China before the War. Walter was Professor and Chair (emeritus) of the Department of Human Genetics of the Virginia Commonwealth University. Walter and Mayna lived in Richmond, Virginia and finally Sewanee, and traveled the world while Walter would lecture, conduct research, and photograph anything and everything and Mayna would pursue her artistic projects. They both shared a great love of cooking and entertaining friends and family. One of Mayna Nance’s lasting contributions was the establishment of her grandmother’s cabin-studio on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994 as the Mayna Treanor Avent Studio, also known as the Avent-Ownby Cabin. The Avent family have been visitors and explorers in the Great Smoky Mountains since the early 20th century. In 1918, her grandparents purchased an authentic pioneer mountain cabin built around 1850 that Mayna Nance’s father James converted to a summer studio for his mother Mayna Treanor Avent before the establishment of the Smoky Mountains National Park. After the Cabin was returned to the National Park in 1992, Mayna Nance led a successful drive to have the structure listed on the National Register. You are welcome to go visit, provided you can find it after a slightly strenuous hike up the side of a mountain and across a creek deep into the woods. Just remember to sweep the floor and close the doors before you leave! As China began opening up in the 1980s, Mayna was one of the early Western travelers back to China, first as part of semi-official delegations and later jointly with her husband Walter. Both were contributors to their Alma Mater, The Shanghai American School, and were invited lecturers there. Though Mayna’s passing was not due to COVID-19, the current global situation restricted who could be at her bedside. Nonetheless, technology greatly assisted as Mayna’s overseas and Tennessee families were able to be with her in her final hours. She was shown her artwork and photos of her family and was able to listen to a recording of her father and mother recounting life in China. Mayna is survived by her husband Walter, her sons Michael (Carol) MacKinnon and Bryan (Chikako) MacKinnon, eight grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. She is predeceased by her parents James and Jeanette Avent, her sister and brother Jacqueline and James Avent (Jr), her first husband Daniel MacKinnon, her son Andrew MacKinnon, and her granddaughter Tiffany MacKinnon Allen. In lieu of flowers, please send a donation in Mayna’s memory to either of • The Jacqueline Avent Sewanee Summer Music Festival Scholarship Prize at the University of the South. Contributions can be sent c/o the Office of Advancement, 735 University Ave. Sewanee TN 37383 (http://ssmf.sewanee.edu/about-us/support-the-festival/) • Hearth Hospice, 513 Georgia Avenue, Chattanooga, TN 37403 (www.hearthhospice.com).
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