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Three Halifax County women celebrate 50 years of friendship

The world is a restless place in the 21st century. Nothing seems to stay in place for very long, and people seem to come and go with changes in the economy and other world events.

Relationships between people even seem to be affected by this fact.

There was a time when it wasn’t unusual for people to know one another all of their lives and not to just say that they knew one another in passing but to really have lifelong friendships.

In the present day rushed and shifting world, friendships of four years can be something of an achievement.
The thought of a friendship enduring

for over half a century comes close to being incomprehensible. Yet three area women are currently celebrating the anniversary of a relationship that began 54 years ago.

To understand this story and how the women can be so precise in knowing just when their friendship started, one must go back in time to a very different Halifax County as it existed in 1956.

Before that time everyone went to neighborhood schools from first grade through high school graduation.
So it was for Shirley Wilmouth from the Wolf Trap neighborhood, Carolyn Elliott of the Town of South Boston and Helen Newton from Virgilina (a short time later, Helen, her mother and sister Bettie Belle would move to an apartment in what was known as The Irby House in South Boston).

In those days when everything was very far flung, and people stayed in their own corners of Halifax County, the three young ladies had never met nor even set eyes on one another before school brought them and their families together.

Even today they admit that but for the advent of the consolidated high school opening in 1953 they might not have even met, let alone become such good friends.

As was the custom in those times, school started in September, just after Labor Day. The two eighth graders, Shirley and Helen, came to Halifax County High School in 1956. Carolyn arrived a year later. 

Although they never had any classes together, they all met in the girls bathroom during lunch break and quickly formed a bond that would last a lifetime. They had fun together.  They dated together during their school days going to football games, sock hops, Ernie’s Restaurant and dance hall, Rose’s Dairy Bar in Centerville [where Helen eventually met Buddy Rose, her husband of 52 years and counting] drive-in movies, sleepovers and boating and sun-bathing at Gravel Hill. 

They always shared a love of sunshine, beach and being together.  Best of all were the summer trips to Newport News and Buckroe Beach to stay with Helen and Bettie Belle’s dad, Henry Newton, who gave up his room and slept on the sofa so a houseful of young girls could take over his home for weeks on end.  He would cook for them or take them all out to eat and run them back and forth to the beach each day always making sure they stayed safe, had a good time and obeyed his rules.

Nice as it all was, everything must change and change it did when Helen married Buddy in 1958 and left for four years with her Marine husband. Shirley became engaged, and Carolyn left in 1959 for Peace Junior College in Raleigh, N.C. to finish her education. 

Now Helen’s name changed to Rose, her sister Bettie Belle to Black, Shirley to Green and Carolyn to Gray. 
As the old saying goes, first came love, then came marriage......and, yes, then came a number of baby carriages. 

Helen and Buddy returned home with their baby daughter, Shirley remained in South Boston raising her daughter and son, and Carolyn moved to Virginia Beach where her three sons were born.      

The three admit this was the most remote time for their friendship as each was busy with home and hearth.

But they all said “lots of writing” took place during those pre-email years when long distance phone calls were a big (and pricey) deal. The point to them, however, was to keep a friendship that had come to mean so much to each of them.  They didn’t intend to lose that.    

Lots happened during that time, as it will come what may, and the three became official working women.  
Helen opened a self-named dress shop, which she ran for a decade, and who should become her right hand woman but Shirley! 

When Helen decided to close shop and go to work for others, Shirley went back to school and earned her associate degree. 

Carolyn became a government employee for the United States Army in Fort Story where she remained for 34 years. 

As the kids grew up, twice yearly trips to visit Carolyn in Virginia Beach became easier.   The three also started riding along with Carolyn’s father, Bim Elliott, on his annual February Daytona 500 race week trips.  
While he went to the races, the ladies would go on to Orlando to lay in the Florida sunshine for seven glorious days. 

Now the ladies are all youthful and vibrant grandmothers. It is obvious the young girls who met in the ladies room of the high school so long ago are still living inside these more mature ladies.

However, time has given them more. A family friend has dubbed them “the three Graces” in reference to the figures in ancient mythology who doled out the best of human characteristics to a world in need of them, then and now.

That description is so apt. It is apparent their mutual journey through life has been a graceful thing. The three ladies claim there has never been a cross word amongst them in over half a century.

Carolyn speaks for the group when she said, “We are always together, always confiding in and supporting one another, through times both happy and sad.”

They all said if they had one wish to pass on to their children and grandchildren, it would be that they would have at least one friendship in their lives comparable to the one these women have known.

Here’s wishing them a happy anniversary in honor of a remarkable achievement.