PITTSBORO — Grandchildren on golf carts flashed handmade signs, passengers shot confetti from car windows and Fords and firetrucks alike honked horns on Friday afternoon.It was an impromptu …
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PITTSBORO — Grandchildren on golf carts flashed handmade signs, passengers shot confetti from car windows and Fords and firetrucks alike honked horns on Friday afternoon.
It was an impromptu birthday celebration for Elizabeth “Granny Lib” Farrell, but she didn’t mind.
Sitting in her wheelchair under a blue pop-up tent on the front lawn of 114 J.A. Farrell Street, she smiled, waved to friends and at times dabbed away tears of happiness with a handkerchief. She wore sandals, white khaki pants and a teal T-shirt that made her milestone crystal clear.
“This queen,” it read, “makes 100 look fabulous.”
On July 3, the day Farrell hit triple digits, family members gathered at her Pittsboro home for a drive-by, pizza and cupcakes. They celebrated a woman whose daughters, Barbara Nance and Vicky Brady, described her as a “perfectionist” with a non-stop work ethic.
“She was an overachiever,” Nance said.
“She was,” Brady said. “She could do anything — the yard work, the inside work. Everything, really.”
Farrell, who raised her two daughters from her first marriage in Greensboro, re-married J.A. Farrell Jr. in the late 1960s. Farrell would go on to serve as Chatham County’s sheriff from 1972 to 1978.
Jay Farrell, a current Pittsboro town commissioner, was about 10 years old when his father re-married Elizabeth. Jay lived with his biological mother growing up, but he’s a longtime Pittsboro resident and said he was consistently “in and out” to spend time with his step-mother.
“She (Elizabeth) was always real good to him,” Jay said of his father, who died in 1994. “That was the main thing.”
Elizabeth Farrell had a decades-long career at UNC Hospitals, working as a supervisor in the sterilization department. When she retired, her daughters said Farrell did a slew of in-home projects before getting “bored.”
After a short stint at a boutique shop, Farrell applied for a job at a nearby drug store (now a Walgreens) when she was 80. She got the job and worked the cash register there for almost 10 years. Farrell won three employee of the month awards in her time there: two for her store and one for the entire company.
“She said the saddest day was when she had to quit work,” Brady, her younger daughter, said. “She loved work.”
Up until a year and a half ago, Farrell lived on her own and only got assistance from a biweekly house cleaner. After a fall, she went through six weeks of rehab and starting using a wheelchair, and her family hired two caregivers to alternate caring for Farrell a week at time.
“But she still has her mind,” Brady said. “Her memory is incredible. It’s just her physical body has given out.”
Margaret Dodson, one of those caregivers, has worked with Farrell since last April. Every other week, she drives an hour and 45 minutes from her home in Robeson County to spend a week in Farrell’s home. Dodson said Farrell has a “great appetite,” especially for country food: bacon and eggs for breakfast, tomato sandwiches with pickles for lunch. They’ve developed a running joke where they both refer to each other “Granny.”
Dodson retired at age 62 to care for her own mother, who had a “bad case” of Alzheimer’s and died after four years. Farrell was Dodson’s first official client after that, and Dodson recalled an emotional conversation in which she asked Farrell to be her “earthly mom.” Farrell accepted.
“My mom was a good lady,” Dodson said, holding back tears. “This disease just took her. I feel like God put me in (Farrell’s) life to show me my mom could have been just like her, if it hadn’t been for the decision. Granny Lib, she’s special to me. She’s very special.”
Jay Farrell was the main coordinator of the drive-by for his step-mother’s 100th birthday celebration. Along with family and friends, vehicles from the Pittsboro Police Department, Pittsboro Fire Department and Chatham County Sheriff’s Office joined in the drive-by ceremony, which began just past 11 a.m.
Nance and Brady, Farrell’s daughters, made the drive from Richmond, Virginia, and Greensboro, respectively, for the event.
Standing under a tent, they watched their mother smile and interact with guests as they reminisced on her “strong-willed” life. She was an excellent housekeeper, a masterful cook and a skilled seamstress — she sewed curtains, furniture slip covers and Barbara’s wedding dress.
“She really could do it all,” Brady said.
And the fact Granny Lib reached 100 years old?
“I’m not surprised,” Nance said.