Lillie Hammond ’36 has seen 18 U.S. presidents in her lifetime, and all 14 leaders of her alma mater, East Carolina University.
Lillie recently celebrated her 104th birthday at Cypress Glen Retirement Community, where she is now the oldest resident ever to have lived, according to staff. She is not the oldest living alumnus of East Carolina, but she is one of the top five.
She was born Lillie Dare Brown on September 13, 1912, just outside Bethel. She celebrated with friends and family on September 18 at Cypress Glen.
Lillie’s fellow resident and “care buddy” Doris Reed interviewed her for the occasion and shared her story with the East Carolina Alumni Association.
After graduating from East Carolina Teachers College in 1936, Lillie began teaching school in Bethel. She married Carey Edward Hammond in 1939. He fought in Normandy in WWII but returned home safely. He worked as a hardware store manager. She took a few years off to raise their two children, a boy and a girl. She went on to teach for a total of 31 years in Bethel and Williamston.
“I don’t know why I was singled out to be 104; I am just an ordinary person,” Lillie told Doris. “I have always believed that life is a journey, and I am content to follow this journey as long as the Lord plans.”
Lillie moved to Cypress Glen in 2006 shortly after her eyesight began to fail due to glaucoma. She lost her sight completely in 2011, but remains alert and active.
She said, “I have always tried never to complain and just deal with whatever life sends me, so I searched for retirement communities and found Cypress Glen. I wanted to enter in time to memorize my apartment and thus stay independent.”
“She just has such a positive outlook on life,” said her daughter-in-law Jana Hammond ’84. “Her new goal is to make it into the Guinness Book of World records. Even at this age, it’s like starting over new. It’s so fun to see this new spark in her.”
Lillie has fond memories of her life in Bethel. She recalls a bustling downtown, and gas being 15-25 cents a gallon. Her teaching salary was $100 a month. While she was not active in politics, she was active in her community, including Bethel Methodist Church and Bethel Book Club. As a young teacher, she was friends with a fellow teacher, Edith Warren, who went on to enter the NC Legislature. The two are friends to this day. Lillie has six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
“We’re an ECU family,” said Jana, who got a teaching degree from ECU like Lillie. “My husband Edward didn’t go to ECU but he is a big Pirate football fan.”
Two of Lillie’s grandchildren are current students at ECU.
“I knew ECU was a great school because not only did my grandma (I call her Memaw) go there, but so did my mom and two of my older siblings,” said Jana’s daughter Jackie Hammond, a senior communication major.
“My grandmother Lillie is a very strong, kindhearted lady, and even in her old age is not afraid to speak her mind,” says Jackie’s younger brother Jordan Hammond, who is a freshman. “Having lived so long, she has been through a lot and therefore has a lot of wisdom. It’s crazy to think how long ago 1936 was and all that has happened since then. From her stories it’s also really interesting to hear how different this university was when she was attending it.”
“It’s an incredible feeling knowing that I have someone so special in my life that has been through so much and seen so much change in her life,” said Jackie. “I love to hear stories from her life, including her time at ECTC. Just to hear about the changes that ECU has undergone from someone who was there back in the 1930s is such a special experience. I feel very blessed to still have my Memaw in my life and I never take for granted the stories she has to tell.”
Update (Monday, Oct. 10): Lillie and Doris are safe at Cypress Glen. They have moved up to the third floor while the first floor is being evacuated due to anticipated flooding from Hurricane Matthew. Family members, friends, and volunteers are assisting. Doris says Lillie is adjusting to her new room pretty well.