Gayle Davis motivated and helped Mary make a scrapbook of Mother's 80th birthday celebration in 2005. Mother relived her party many times through this album.
Gayle also interviewed Mom and wrote this article, which was published it in our church's newsletter in 2006. There is some repeated information from other blog posts but Gayle brought out a few interesting tidbits not yet touched upon.
Frances Isabel Willis Freeman was born on July 15, 1925 to Robert Alexander, an attorney, and Bessie Willis Freeman, a housewife, in the city of Dobson, NC. She had 3 older siblings, one brother, Robert, Jr., and two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary. Fran and Mary were born only 13 months apart. Their mother dressed them alike and people thought they were twins.
Fran was very nearsighted and got her first pair of thick glasses when she was in second grade. She then wore contacts most of her life.
One of the most frightening experiences for Fran and Mary was when their father took them to Mars Hill Jr. College for the first time and left them there to start their first year of college. They roomed together and were homesick more than once. Fran became ill with pneumonia so both girls dropped out after the first semester.
Later she completed three years at Meredith Baptist Girl’s College in Raleigh but decided her best bet was to stop school and marry a certain handsome red-haired man named Walker.
Young men who were stationed at Ft. Bragg came to Meredith College to date the girls. (The soldiers called Meridith "The Angel Farm.") She met Walker May, Jr. in May, 1946 and they were married August 15, 1946, under one of the many large oak trees in the front yard of the Freeman home. This is also where Walker proposed to her. Yes, it was a short courtship but led to a very strong marriage.
Walker brought her back to Mockingbird Hill to live with his parents and she has been there ever since. She says that Walker’s mother, Ruth, was very intelligent and taught this city girl how to live in the country and cook, can and freeze. When Fran’s children were growing up, Grandmother May would tell them stories, recite poetry that she had memorized when she was a child and she helped all her grandchildren with algebra!
Fran started attending Donovan Memorial United Methodist Church the first Sunday after they moved here. She joined the church, moving her membership from the Baptist church in Dobson, and became a very important part of our Church Family, serving in many capacities. She was a Sunday school teacher, Sunday school superintendent and member of the women’s group of which she held all the offices.
At one time there was Children’s Church, led by Fran and held in the basement during worship time. She later presented the Children’s Sermon during worship. When Rev. Widmyer was pastor, their sermons were on the same subjects more than once, even though they had not conferred with each other. Fran believes that this was God’s doing.
She also sang in the choir for years; music was an important part of her life.
She credits Maude Lee, her Sunday school teacher for many years, with helping her learn the Bible and grow in the Christian faith.
Mary Elizabeth, named after Fran’s two sisters, was their first-born and the first female grandchild of the Freeman’s. Anita and Philip completed their family. She looks at her family as her biggest accomplishment and was especially proud of their children when they joined the church. Fran now has 2 granddaughters, 1 grandson and one great grandson.
Fran recalls that her Aunt Pat, who lived with the Freeman family in Dobson, NC and was a teacher, bought Fran and Mary school desks and set them outside the door to her bedroom. Before Fran and Mary went to kindergarten, she taught them their ABC’s and how to read. Maybe Aunt Pat instilled a certain knack for teaching in Fran. Her Aunt Callie was a teacher and her father was a teacher before becoming an attorney.
Dorothy Swank, a country school supervisor, saw Fran presenting lessons in church and asked if she would be interested in teaching. She taught homebound students for a while and then she took a half-time reading teacher position at Ottobine Elementary. Later she taught at Singers Glen Elementary and Mt. Clinton Elementary.
Losing her husband, Walker May, Jr., to cancer in 1985 was the saddest time in her life. Walker was a farmer and sang in a quartet at church made up of Leonard Hollar, H.L. Arthur, Rev. Millard Floyd and himself. He sang with the Four Tones and later with The Milk and Honey Trio, both well known local gospel groups. Walker also hosted a gospel music program on Radio WHBG on Sunday mornings for 35 years.
Fran’s unique story-telling ability was known far and wide. She did a southern rendition of Tar Baby, an Uncle Remus Brer Rabbit tale, for her Children’s Literature class at JMU, which was well received.
-- Reading, collecting (angels, bells, bird figurines)
-- Goes to the Wellness Center 3 X a week, where she enjoys the pool exercises and the people.
-- “Proud” to have learned to use the computer in her late 70’s and enjoys email.
-- Europe and USA. Many of the trips were with her sister, Mary. Her favorite trip was to Hawaii.
Fran is an upbeat, positive person always smiling and congenial. We are very fortunate to have Fran in our church. Thanks, Walker, for stealing her away from the city and bringing her here and making a country girl of her!