Maija Selby-Harrington, 77, of Durham, passed away peacefully on Tuesday, December 27, 2022 at The Forest at Duke.
Maija was born in Finland on December 11, 1945 to Olavi and Eevi Alakulppi. Maija’s father, Olavi Alakulppi, was a soldier when Russia overran Finland prior to World War II. He became a prisoner of war but escaped and eventually made it to the United States along with several of his fellow Finnish officers. All became American soldiers.
Maija, her brother, Vesa, and her mother, Eevi were under house arrest. Mrs. Alakulppi told the guards that she needed to go shopping. Eevi Alakulppi, Vesa, and Maija walked 17 miles from Laurila, Finland to Haaparanta, Sweden where they were given political asylum.
The little girl who had walked and been carried by her mother through the snow in a far-off land from one country to another eventually became a full professor and Director of Research in the School of Nursing at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Up to that time, she had procured the largest Federal grant that had been received at UNC-G and was nominated for the O. Max Gardner Award, the highest award in the University of North Carolina system.
At the height of her career, Maija became ill with a painful disorder now called CRPS and had to take an early medical retirement. She continued to be the same kind, considerate person that she had always been, even as she suffered the nearly unbearable pain of this disease.
Maija’s husband, Bill, became guardian of his disabled cousin, Frankie Peterson, soon after they were married. Frankie had never been taught the necessary skills to live more independently – in her case in a group home. Maija and Bill wanted Frankie to learn to work, to socialize, to exercise, to dance, to go to movies, to go out to dinner, to travel – to laugh and to cry and struggle with life like everyone else. So, Frankie moved in with Maija and Bill and lived with them for one and one-half years. While continuing to deal with the pain of CRPS, Maija taught Frankie the skills she needed to work in a sheltered workshop and eventually to move into a group home.
Maija was a lover of animals, especially the down and out dogs that needed a home. When she was forced to take an early medical retirement, Maija and her husband, Bill, became members of Pug Rescue of North Carolina. Over time Maija rescued dozens of pugs as well as other dogs of various breeds. There are countless dogs that owe their very lives to Maija.
Maija is survived by her beloved husband, William “Bill” Harrington; her daughters, Eila Kovanen and Kristiina Kovanen; and her nephew, Kurt Alakulppi. In addition to her parents, she was preceded in death by her brother, Vesa Alakulppi.
A graveside celebration of Maija’s life will be held Monday, January 9, 2023 at 2 PM at Bluestem Conservation Cemetery, 1900 Hurdle Mills Road, Cedar Grove, NC 27231.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Pug Rescue of North Carolina, Inc., P.O. Box 10601, Virginia Beach, VA 23450.