My maternal grandmother died just short of 87-years-old, having lived a life devoted to her family and her community, but on her own outspoken and often original terms.
When her long-time physician, no spring chicken herself, emerged from Gobbie’s hospital room to conﬁ rm the sad news for her assembled family and other loved ones, the doctor did not bow her head or look distressed in any way. Instead, she threw her arms into the air and pronounced, “This is the end of an era.”
That is exactly what occurred on one quiet block of one small and narrow Haymount street last month.
Six short weeks in July and August were particularly cruel to the handful of families on the quiet street. First came the death of Dr. Weldon Jordan at 87, following in short order by Stuart Kerr at 85, Dr. Albert Stewart at 90, and, ﬁnally, last week by Rosalie Kelly at 81.
These were members of what Tom Brokaw famously named “Greatest Generation,” those who came into their own after World War II and who, in ways large and small, public and private, helped shape our community into what it is today. They were also devoted family people, parenting 18 children among them and more grandchildren than I can count on both ﬁ ngers and toes.
How do I know all this?
These four were among my own parents’ friends and contemporaries, people I do not remember not knowing. Even more, though, for 25 years the Dicksons lived in the middle of that one block, arriving the very day the ﬁ rst Precious Jewel toddled his ﬁ rst steps and departing a few months before he married. When we arrived, the street was, in the words of one memorable resident, “nothing but widows, widows, widows,” all of whom have now met their Maker. Over time it morphed into a family street with 20 children living there at one time or another during our tenure, making it a wonderful and loving place to raise a family. It was a tiny community with many parts making a whole.
Now it is morphing again.
Weldon Jordan and Albert Stewart lived next door to each other, had nine sons between them, and practiced medicine together the old fashioned way. They made house calls, and countless patients were devoted to each of them for all the right reasons. Later years found Dr. Jordan in his garden sharing his knowledge and his produce with our Precious Jewels and the children of their generation. Dr. Stewart was likely in his woodworking shop, creating exquisite handmade furniture that would be the pride of anyone’s home. The description “a kindly Southern gentleman” ﬁt both to a T.
Stuart Kerr and Rosalie Kelly lived next door to each other at the other end of the street.
Stuart Kerr died last month in the house in which she grew up, with a lifetime of quiet and voluntary community work and philanthropy in between, most notably with the Cumberland Community Foundation and the Salvation Army, although her ﬁngerprints are on many local institutions. She was quick-witted and loved to travel, and the street’s Precious Jewels often walked with her as she strolled a succession of dogs.
Rosalie Kelly, whose family has been in Fayetteville since before there was a Fayetteville, became the public face of historic preservation in our community. At a time when our community was trying to ﬁnd its way after a polarizing time in American history, Rosalie Kelly would not let us forget that we are a community of great history ourselves and that our buildings are a crucial part of that and must be preserved. Woe to anyone who dared utter otherwise and especially to anyone ignorant enough to use that awful invented word that is a cross between Fayetteville and Vietnam. Rosalie Kelly would have your head on a silver platter. She was a warm and charming person, bestowing the word “precious” on all whom she loved.
As I sat at the last of the services for these four remarkable Fayettevillians, I was sad yet again for the loss to their families, their friends, our community, and, frankly, to me. And, even though there was nothing to see, I had a clear sense of a changing of the guard — a passing of the baton — or, as my grandmother’s doctor put it, “the end of an era.”
The Greatest Generation is exiting, and my generation, the Baby Boomers, is up next.
These four individuals, living on one block in the middle of Haymount, set the bar very high.