City of Grosse Pointe resident Barbara J. Bentley passed away peacefully at home on Aug. 31 following a courageous battle with cancer.
She is survived by her sister Avril Pritchard and her nephew Steve Pritchard, of England, and her only child, Michael Trudel, daughter-in-law Leslie, and two grandchildren, David and Elizabeth, of Grosse Pointe Park.
Barbara was born and raised in Stoke-On-Trent, England. Born June 16, 1934, she survived the German air raids during World War II, graduated with honors from St. Dominic's High School in 1950, and married Airman First Class Raymond Trudel, of Detroit, at St. Augustine's Church in Stoke-on-Trent on November 1, 1952. Her son Michael was born in August of 1953, and Barbara and Michael immigrated to the United States in February, 1954. They lived in Cape Cod, MA before settling in Detroit upon Raymond's honorable discharge from the United States Air Force in 1956.
Unlike many women in the 1950s, Barbara was never much interested in being a full-time, stay-at-home housewife, preferring to share in providing income for the family by working as an executive secretary. In 1962 the family left Detroit and bought a new home in the growing east-side suburb of Fraser. It was shortly after they settled in Macomb County that Barbara discovered local community theatre. She was cast in a production with the St. Clair Shores Players, where she made connections that led her to the and the beginning of a brilliant 48-year relationship.
From the start Barbara was a theatrical natural. She was cast in the first theatre show she auditioned for, 1963's Teahouse of the August Moon, as Lotus Blossom, the beautiful geisha.
It was the first of 18 memorable comedic, dramatic and musical roles she had over the years. Of particular note, she was unforgettable as the blind woman, Suzy Hendrix, in Wait Until Dark, and she loved being in the ensemble of Annie that included both Michael and Elizabeth, the first Grosse Pointe Theatre production to feature three generations of one family in the cast.
Although accomplished on stage, it turns out her true gift to theatre was the ability to envision, cast and bring a production to fruition onstage as a director. Her first Grosse Pointe Theatre directorial assignment was 1977's Catch Me if You Can, a well-crafted comedy, but the first glimpse of her amazing vision was her second attempt, the 1980 dramatic tour de force, Equus, for which Barbara was awarded Grosse Pointe Theatre's highest honor, a Clarence Award for Best Director, the first of nine she would receive. Her work on A Chorus Line, Amadeus, A Streetcar Named Desire, Death of a Salesman, Broadway Bound, Me and My Girl, Communicating Doors and Sweeney Todd were all rewarded by the membership. She directed her twelevth and final show for the theatre earlier this year, the charming English comedy, Relatively Speaking.
In the midst of her involvement with the theatre, Barbara decided it was time to pursue a college education. While Michael was in high school, Barbara began taking classes at Macomb County Community College, eventually transferring to Oakland University, where she attained a BA degree in History and graduated Cum Laude in 1975.
During her time at OU she also began working at several law firms as a legal secretary. It was a few years after her graduation that she decided to "raise the bar" on her legal career and enrolled in Wayne State University's Law School. Working as a paralegal during the day and taking classes at night, she received her Law Degree in 1984 and passed the Bar in 1985. For the next 25+ years she maintained a very successful independent legal practice, focusing on personal legal issues for friends and family, and accepting assignments from Wayne County Probate and Juvenile Court.
Creative. Brilliant. Inspirational. Dedicated. Driven. Compassionate. These are but a few of the many words of tribute and love that were spoken at Barbara Bentley's Memorial Celebration that took place on Sept. 17 at The Ark at St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Grosse Pointe Park. Almost 200 family, friends, work associates and Grosse Pointe Theatre members affectionately remembered Barbara at an event filled with song, stories and beloved memories. It was a perfect night for a lovely lady.
The family requests that contributions to Barbara Bentley can be made to the Grosse Pointe Theatre Memorial Fund.