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Saturday, August 20, 2011

No. 63 To my dear friend, Libby Jean

(Today, 20 Aug 2011 I spoke at the funeral of my friend and cousin, Olivia Jean Yeomans Shipp. This is a printed copy of my remarks. It is largely unedited, so please overlook any obvious grammatical or spelling errors. I rushed getting it ready as I wanted to make it available to her friends and family who were not able to attend the service.)

The cover from her funeral program
Along the shoreline at the landing there were lots of boats, and most of them looked alike. Whether skiffs, open boats, or even trawlers, they all seemed to be different sizes and shapes of the same design.

But at the foot of Danky’s (David’s) dock there was one boat that was noticeably different.  Rather than smooth sanded sides, this one had planks that were attached to the frame and to each other – call lapstrakes.  Rather than a white painted juniper stern, on this one the transom was varnished mahogany. It had vinyl covered seats instead of a “thawt - thwart” and the motor was so recessed as to be almost hidden, both from view and from sound. And unlike all the other boats, it didn’t swing at a stake or mooring. It sat on a metal trailer so it could be moved over land as easily as it could float over water.

In short, this was a “fancy” boat, at least fancy when compared with the others that stretched as far as you could see to both the east and west.  It was made for riding “on” the water more than working “in” the water.

There was something else different about it. I knew all the other names that were painted on sterns; whether Barbara, Ralph, Francis, or even “The Ram.” This one had a name that I just didn’t quite get.

You see, it was named the “Olivia.” I would be almost a teenager before I came to realize and the person in whose name the boat had been christened was “Lib,” our “Lib,” “Libby Jean.”  I can still remember thinking when finally told of the connection, “so that’s who that is!”

Like the pleasure boat her father named in her honor, there was something fancy, even a little elegant, about “Olivia Jean”. She could rub shoulders with the leaders in the community & politics, as well as school and church officials, and not seem at all out of place. She could talk their talk and walk their walk without missing a step.  That world of movers and shakers has lost a good friend, and many of them are here to honor her today. We thank you for your friendship and kindness to her and to “hers” and for the many wonderful moments she knew and enjoyed as part of that world.

But I am here to represent the people who knew her as just plain old, “Lib,” or “Libby Jean” if it was something urgent or important that needed her attention. You know who I’m talking about, that little girl of David and Clara Mathelda’s, Danky & Ollie’s grand-daughter, Ashlyn & Brandon’s Mama, and most of all in recent years, Bob’s wife and sweetheart. That’s the one I’ve been asked to remember. I’m here to speak for and about just plain old “Lib.”

When I was thinking her and who would be here today, I was a little amused that “Dallas Daniel” is her only “1st cousin”. But when the cousins list is expand that to include 2nd, 3rd, or 4th relations, then it would include just about everybody here today. Certainly there is all of “Rennie’s crowd,” and her father’s extended family. But there is also the crowd of Moores, Guthries, & Hancocks, and others that knew and loved her – we were family too. And then there an even more distant blood relative who was the closest thing she ever had to a baby brother, Howard Craig Lewis.

Perhaps there is a need to explain why I, one Charlie William and Margarette’s boys, am standing here today, speaking about her, but representing many of you who have similar blood lines and similar memories.

First, let me thank Bob, Ashlyn & Brandon for this opportunity. They know, and want you to understand, that it was Lib herself who requested (demanded) that I fulfill my obligation to her by being here. You see, Lib and I shared something that she considered important, almost sacred. We were part of the world she was born in and never left. Oh, she was prone and even eager to travel, explore, shop and hang out. But it was always with the understanding that she would eventually come home -- not just to the Island, but to our neighborhood and her world.

Some of us when we were younger, could throw a baseball from the house where she spent her first night as a little girl, to the home where she spent her last evening as mature woman. She didn’t complain about the compactness of that little world, she bragged about it!

I asked Bob if the question ever arose between him and Lib of moving and living somewhere else. Without hesitation, he responded, “Never.” We didn’t answer it because it never came up.

On a personal note, let me continue by asserting that I don’t remember a world that Lib was not a part of. There were two houses and eight years in between us. But her grandma, Ollie, was about as close as I ever came to having a grandma of my own. Beyond that, Ollie was the nurse maid and doctor to our whole community.

[Lib was close enough to me to tell me the truth, sometimes even when I didn’t want to hear it. But I told Bob there is one thing I’m not sure she was completely honest with me about. It can be summed up in two words, “Black Salve.”]

Lib had something besides a pleasure boat that set her apart from almost everyone else in our neighborhood while growing up. She had a telephone. That heavy black headset that sat on an even heavier base with a dialpad was both a burden as well as a blessing to her. She was the one who had to run all over the neighborhood to let someone know that there was a “person to person” phone call waiting for them at David & Clara Methelda’s.

Another distinguishing aspect of her childhood was that Lib’s Daddy, David, was everywhere – at the fish house (David’s dock) in the evening, at the polling place on election day, and the post-office every single day.

Because her family was involved with so much and so many, Lib was a part of just about everything. She was not just David’s little girl, she was his little boy too, with and around him in everything he did.

One distinction she owned, that most of us never knew, but that is still remembered by some, is that she, along with Dwight Willis, was the mascot for the last ever (final) graduating class of Harkers Island High School in 1951.

Consider for a moment some things about her childhood. She was around fishermen and boatbuilders every day, just like the rest of us. But it was not at all unusual for her to come home and find a judge, legislator, congressman, or even the lieutenant governor sitting on her porch or eating at her mama’s table. She came to be so familiar with such occasions that she was comfortable and poised while making her way around the rich and powerful.

It was quite probably fore-ordained that her career was to be in public service. In working at the courthouse she was doing in a structured way what her father, David, and her grandfather, Eugene Yeomans, had done for several generations. Lib was at her best doing things, “little things” but not unimportant things, for “little people.” Rearranging a jury assignment, help with a traffic ticket or fishing citation, tracing a social-security check, or explaining why a local coast guardsman needed to be stationed closer to his home – these were the things that Lib knew how to do and was willing to help with.

She was good at what she did at work, and she was successful. But that stuff she did at the courthouse was a way of making a living, it was not her life.

Her life was centered seventeen miles down the road (or about six miles as the crow flies) almost due east, and in a patch of houses and families that she loved and appreciated with all her heart, might, mind and soul.

Lib and I, and some of you, were part of a the last fully “captive” Island generation, one that evidenced a world that she loved with all her heart. In truth it was just a neighborhood, a family, an extended family, or a group of extended families to some people. But to Lib and some others, it was a world that had been stamped our consciousness as children and that we have found it difficult to say goodbye to.

In asking [requiring] me to eulogize her today, Lib expected that I would tell you, for her, where and what she came from and was a part of. I will attempt to do that understanding that some of you already know this story, or have at least heard it before. Please bear with me as I repeat it, because it was what Lib had wanted.

From before I can remember, Lib and her family were a part of my life. Technically, Lib and I were 2nd  cousins. But just about everybody on this Island is some kind of cousin to everyone else. Indeed, there was something about this relationship we shared with the others in our world that went beyond blood lines, and that had as much to do with time and place and other people, as with any simple genealogical connection. As I honor her, I want you to know, or to remember, what that world and place was like.

Our common ancestor was Emeline Brooks, and that is where our story should begin. To really understand Lib, or me, or Barbara or Veta Ann, and lots of others, I want to tell you something about Emeline and how what happened to her has affected us,

Emeline Brooks was the 5th great granddaughter of John Shackleford, from whom Shackleford Banks got its name. As a very young girl, she married Louie Larson ( a stowaway from Norway and the traveling companion of Charles Clawson), and settled up at Harkers Point. It is poetic that Louie was first brought to the Island by a local businessman he met in Wilmington. His name was Eugene Yeomans, and his son David would later become a part of this story in an important way. But that was on a distant horizon when Emeline and Louie started their lives together.

Soon after comint to the Island Louie built a grist mill to try and make a living. But Louie died less than four years into their marriage, leaving Emeline with two small girls; Lilly, who was blind, and Agnes who would be my grandmother. After having been a widow for seven years she married Calvin Farr Willis and moved to his place along the south shore of the Island, where they soon had two sons of their own, Rennie and Danny, whom everyone called, Dankie. By the time my father was born in 1909, there was no distinction between the children of Louie Larson and the children of Cal Farr. There were all one family. They were all Emeline’s.

Eventually, Agnes married my grandfather, Charlie Hancock from the Banks, and after the hurricane of 1899, he moved with her next to the home of Emeline & Cal Farr where they were raising “Blind Lillie,” and her new brothers, Rennie and Danky.

The Willis and Hancocks families and homes soon stretched northward from the shore, and joined with the family of Hardin Guthrie (Louie and France). France's brother, Tom Martin, had a son (Willie) and daughter (Annie) who married two of the Moore crowd (Aaron & Carrie). The Guthrie houses ended where the Moores began. Two of those Moore-Guthries married the Willises (Leslie married Vivian and Cecil married Esther), and the circle was made complete.

Willises, Hancocks, Guthries and Moores (along with Scotts, Irvines, Fulchers, Cravers, Salters, and Gaskills who had married and become a part) lived in an area of not much more than a city block, all of us related in so many ways that they stopped keeping count even before I came along. We just knew we were part of a special group, a neighborhood, a family, and a way of life where we did almost everything together from fishing, running horses, killing hogs, building boats, swimming, playing, cutting down Christmas trees, and making a living.

That was the world of which Libby Jean was so happy and proud to be a part. As I have mentioned , she was very close to her father David. But she would explain that when her father married Clara Mathelda, he became part of her world and not the other way around. Just as Bob would admit, and ever brag about, that when he married Lib, he became part of her world, and not the other way around.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Ephesians, observed that , “for this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.” (New Testament | Ephesians 5:31)

Over the centuries this has been taken to mean that in a true wedding, two people become one. I can’t think of an example where this has been fulfilled more clearly than in the union of “Lib & Bob” or “Bob and Lib.”Think for a moment, in the past twenty-five years or so, have you ever said one name without at least thinking of the other.

For quite a while now, Bob has been a good friend to me and to all of my extended family. He has a talent of making us all, individually and as a group, feel that we are his best friend and the most important person in his world — at least for the moment. He is probably known by as many people in this county as any other single individual, and is loved by just as many — and deservedly so. But Bob would be the first to admit that he is not “perfect.”

But at least from what I saw, and what I heard, and what I felt, he was perfect in the loving care and friendship that he displayed to my dear friend Lib. I asked if in his heart of hearts there was anything he might have done differently — but without giving him the chance to respond. I know he might look deep enough to find something. But whatever that is, I don’t think it will ever matter — for in a very real sense he opened up and gave all of that giant heart of his to Lib, to Libby Jean, so that we were all exactly right in calling her and him Lib & Bob, Bob & Lib.

So it is in his honor, as well as hers, that I say goodbye to my childhood and life long friend, Libby Jean. Goodbye and God Speed. It was good, and the next time will be even better.

Joel Hancock
20 Aug 2011


  1. Lib and Bob are the only non-Hancocks (who didn't marry into the family) expected to be at Hancock gatherings. That says a lot.

  2. Joel,
    This is a beautiful tribute to a beautiful woman. I wish I had been there to hear it in person but after reading it, I have felt the "Spirit" of it and I know it is just what she wanted. She is an amazing woman and always will be among my fondest memories of Harkers Island and its people. I will be forever grateful for this. Thanks for posting.
    Love, Camella

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