Elizabeth Dole visits new exhibit at Rowan Museum
By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — It wasn’t U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s remarkable career and accomplishments her friends and former classmates wanted to talk about Sunday afternoon.
It was Liddy Dole’s kindness, generosity and loyal friendship.
“She was always a giving person,” said Bill Miller, Dole’s classmate from third grade until they graduated from Boyden High School in Salisbury. “She was always trying to make you feel good about yourself.”
Part high school reunion, part fan club meeting and part civics lesson, Sunday’s reception for Dole at the Rowan Museum marked the public unveiling of a new exhibit, “Elizabeth Hanford Dole: Hometown Girl. Public Servant. World Citizen.”
Dole had a sneak peek Saturday night with her friend Betty Dan Spencer, who with museum board member Terry Holt and Executive Director Kaye Brown Hirst created the extensive exhibit. It chronicles Dole’s life from early childhood in Salisbury to her roles as executive director of the American Red Cross, U.S. secretary of transportation, U.S. secretary of labor and U.S. senator.
“I’m not even counting all the things she achieved in her lifetime,” said friend Ann Hatchell Morgan of Society Hill, S.C. “You love her for who she is, not what she’s done.”
Morgan said she would not have graduated from Boyden High without their friend Liddy. Morgan had moved to Salisbury as a high school senior. She was terribly homesick and hated school.
She sat next to Liddy in homeroom, and the two joined the drama club.
“She befriended me,” Morgan said. “I don’t think I would have made it without her.”
Years after graduation, Morgan ran into Dole when they both worked in Washington, D.C. Dole immediately remembered her classmate and insisted on lunch in her office.
Dole was serving as U.S. secretary of transportation.
For two hours, the women ate and reminisced and laughed. Morgan shared with Dole how much she had meant to a lonely girl at Boyden High School.
“She had no idea,” Morgan said.
They have maintained a close friendship ever since, and Dole called Morgan Sunday morning to make sure she attended the reception.
Jeff and Tamara Miller of Hendersonville didn’t meet Dole until 2007, when her husband, Sen. Bob Dole, became involved with their Honor Flight Network, which flies World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to experience the WWII memorial.
Soon, Elizabeth Dole also was involved with the group, greeting flights in D.C. and organizing a flight in memory of her brother, John Hanford.
“She is a perfectionist,” Jeff Miller said. “Her mind never stops, and she always wants to make something better than the best.”
The Millers became close friends with the Doles. Once when Elizabeth Dole was in Hendersonville, her staff had organized a formal dinner at the nicest restaurant in town.
But Dole pulled Jeff Miller aside and said what she’d really like was a cheeseburger and milkshake at Mike’s On Main with the Millers and the campaign bus driver.
Miller made it happen.
“She loves simple pleasures,” Tamara Miller said.
Heather Quesenberry of Raleigh brought her 5-year-old daughter, also named Elizabeth, to view the exhibit and meet Dole. Quesenberry, who volunteered for Dole’s senate campaign, said her life should inspire young women.
“Her example shows southern, Christian women that the sky’s the limit,” Quesenberry said. “You don’t have to abandon your southern heritage or faith to be a success on the world stage.”
Rather than serving as an obstacle to overcome, Dole’s traditional values and southern roots enabled her to reach the pinnacle of public service and succeed in male-dominated environments like Harvard Law School and the U.S. Senate, Quesenberry said.
“She never changed,” Quesenberry said.
Her classmates would agree.
The accomplished politician and public servant they feted Sunday was the same caring, generous classmate they voted “most likely to succeed” in high school.
Janice Davis Holbrook, a former classmate and old friend, said Dole called her several times while she underwent cancer treatments.
“Liddy and I were Red Birds together in the first grade at Wiley School,” Holbrook said. “My claim to fame is I grew up with Elizabeth Hanford Dole.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.
Sponsors for Elizabeth Dole exhibit at Rowan Museum
Martha and Tom Smith
Betty Dan and Bobby Spencer
Gwin and Matt Barr
Margaret and George Kluttz
Debbie Suggs Catering
F & M Bank
Frances and Sam Bowyer
Meg and Jay Dees
The Perfect Rose
Ann and John Crawford
Anna Mills and Bill Wagoner
Beth and Frank Shafer
Nancy and Bill Stanback
Sue and Paul Fisher