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After recovering from COVID, Harry Drury celebrates 100th birthday

SALISBURY — A month before he was set to turn 100 years old, Harry Drury tested positive for COVID-19 and was immediately hospitalized.

For about a week in early January, he received care in an isolated hospital room at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, unable to receive visits from even his family members.

“I think that was the hardest part for him was not being able to have any visitors and not being able to understand why he couldn’t have any visitors,” said Charlie Drury, Harry’s grandson.

Phone conversations with his care providers were the only way family members communicated with him. After several long days and nights, the family got the phone call they’d been waiting on — sort of.

“We thought we’d lost him and then we got a funny phone call from the nurses that he was trying to get out,” Charlie said.

A week in the hospital was long enough for Harry Drury.

“He was to the point where he was trying to walk home himself,” said Terry Drury, Harry’s son.

Surrounded by family and friends, Harry Drury celebrated his 100th birthday a few months late at St. Luke’s Reformed Church on Saturday afternoon. The party featured cake, plenty of memories and a visit from Salisbury Mayor Karen Alexander, who presented Harry with a proclamation declaring June 26 as “Harry Drury Day.”

“Salisbury is a special place because of people like Harry,” Alexander said.

The town of Granite Quarry also issued a proclamation honoring Harry turning 100.

According to the tattered, taped-together Drury family Bible, which was on display at the celebration, Harry was born on Feb. 18, 1921 as the youngest of six brothers. As a teenager, Harry endured a tragedy when both of his parents died within a year of each other.

“One passed away in 1935 and the other passed away in 1936, right around the time he was only 14 years old,” Charlie said. “The stories he would tell was how his other five brothers really played a huge influence on his life and the man he grew up to be.”

In his early 20s, Harry was drafted into the U.S. Navy. He worked for a year as a shipbuilder in Wilmington during World War II. Harry said he remembers long hours spent installing engines on Liberty ships, which was a type of cargo vessel produced at a rapid pace.

“We built a lot of ships down there and built them fast,” Harry said. “I enjoyed it.”

After being discharged from the Navy, Harry returned to Rowan County and married Dorothy Novella Holshouser in October 1942 in Rockwell. The two remained married for almost 75 years, until Dorothy passed away in 2017.

One of the memories on display at Harry Drury’s 100th birthday celebration was a newspaper cutout of an article announcing his 70th anniversary with his wife Dorothy. Ben Stansell/Salisbury Post

Harry owned and operated Salisbury Oil Company for 35 years, delivering oil that people used for heating to residences and businesses across the county. Terry Drury remembers making deliveries with his father, who seemed to know just about everybody.

“He met a lot of people and made a lot of friends delivering oil,” Terry said. “In the summers, I would tag along. I did that for about four or five years. I learned my way around a lot. He delivered to a lot of homes downtown and businesses that are no longer there and a lot of homes throughout the county.”

Terry also remembers Wednesday afternoons, when he and his father would knock off work at around noon and play a round of golf at McCanless Golf Course. Harry was a prolific golfer, playing “as much as he could.” The many trophies Harry won at local tournaments are still proudly stationed around his home.

“It was fun to see an older man, even in his 80s, go out there and do something that was so natural to him,” Charlie said. “It was fun to see him in his element even in his older years.”

Harry Drury and his daughter Harriet Fisher look through one of his birthday presents, which was a book containing front pages of the New York Times every year since Harry was born. Ben Stansell/Salisbury Post

In addition to his love for golf, Harry was a Mason and a charter member of American Legion Post No. 448 in Granite Quarry. He served as director of Salisbury American Legion Baseball for many years and still attends American Legion baseball games when he can, always enjoying the hotdogs served at the ballpark. Harry’s community involvement didn’t stop with the American Legion. He is a longtime member of St. Luke’s Reformed Church, where he was a Sunday school teacher, church leader and member of the choir.

“I’ve asked him what he would like for most people to know about him,” Charlie said. “He always said it would be that he loves his church and loves his family.”

Even at 100, Harry still lives alone with his immediate family just a few minutes away. He only recently stopped driving. He still cooks his own breakfast (eggs and liver mush are a favorite), goes to church every Sunday and mows his own grass.

Harry only had one wish for his birthday. After receiving the proclamation from Alexander during the celebration, he looked out at his assembled family members and proclaimed: “I hope you all live to be 100.”

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