Lois Ribelin Cranford, 93, died on November 2, 2017 after a brief illness. She lived a splendid and exceedingly full life that exemplified the Rotary motto of Service Above Self, and her passing marks yet another “end of an era” moment for the Durham community.
A resident of Durham for more than 70 years, Lois grew up in Greenwood, S.C. She took pleasure in a busy life packed with adventures and accomplishments. In her later years, poor vision and hearing frustrated her greatly, and her family rejoices that she has now moved ahead on a new journey, reunited with her husband H.C. and with her full energy restored and with her never-failing enthusiasm intact.
Lois was a beloved wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, and friend, but those words don’t begin to capture her. “Force of nature” comes closer. Nothing intimidated her, a lesson she shared with her daughters Susan and Kathryn and her nine grandchildren. Her can-do spirit and willingness to jump in and try to solve problems or help anyone who needed her is a powerful example for all.
Her life extended far beyond the traditional roles expected of a woman of her generation. Lois was a devoted wife, marvelous Southern cook, hands-on mom who drove a thousand carpools, and was recognized as one of Durham’s “Mothers of the Year” in 1978. But she also had a successful career in journalism and public relations, and always carried herself as a professional whether or not she was getting paid for her work.
No job was too big or too small. Lois led Girl Scout troops with gusto, and was an avid camp leader and crafts teacher. She tackled challenges within Durham’s nonprofit community as a board member and leader with the United Way, Volunteer Center, and Family Counseling Service. She arranged roses for First Baptist Church, delivered flowers for the hospital auxiliary, and sold carnations and poinsettias to raise money for Rotary scholarships. She bought and sold silver flatware for many years (H.C. called her the Silver Queen). She ran UNC reunions and volunteered in the School of Journalism’s Charles Kuralt Center. Her energy and enthusiasm were legendary.
Lois also took great pleasure and pride in being H.C.’s sidekick on his many community endeavors, whether at Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the United Way, the City of Medicine, the Convention and Business Bureau, Red Cross, or their favorite: Rotary. They were a powerful team.
She touched lives all across her adopted hometown of Durham. A peek in the trunk of the forest green Continental she drove for decades would give a glimpse of the tools of her trade: fried chicken and pimento cheese sandwiches for the volunteers on a Habitat House; groceries for a family she had taken under her wing; Thanksgiving dinner for the residents of the battered women shelter; hundreds of boxes of Girl Scout cookies to be delivered; or children’s bikes for the Salvation Army at Christmas. She raised her daughters to care about their communities and they have tried to follow her lead in Durham and Charlotte.
The Cranfords were enthusiastic world travelers, and over a span of 30 years
they visited some 35 countries on 6 continents, went to all 50 states, and to each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. After his death she continued her adventures on tall mast ships in the Greek Isles, a train across Canada, a Rotary exchange to Durham, UK, and a solo jaunt to Tahiti in her 80s because she had always wanted to go there. She enjoyed talking about exotic trips they had taken and rereading the wonderful travel journals she kept about places like Bali, the Taj Mahal, Machu Pichu, and China.
She loved songs from the 1940s, reading the Herald-Sun, phone calls from her grandchildren, feeding the birds on her back porches, the beauty of nature, and food cooked the way she liked it. Actually, she loved just about everything.
The daughter of Erma and Carter Ribelin, Lois was two years old when the family moved across the country from Aberdeen WA to Greenwood. in 1925, when he was transferred by J.C. Penney Company as it began opening stores in the South. Lois graduated from Greenwood High School in 1940, attended Lander College for two years and transferred to UNC Chapel Hill as a junior, graduating in February 1945, with an AB in Journalism. There she met H.C., whom she married in the fall of 1943, shortly before he left for two years’ overseas duty in the Pacific with the U.S. Marine Corps. After the war they lived in Chapel Hill for a year, before permanently moving to Durham.
In her first job after graduation, she was a reporter on the Greenwood Index-
Journal. Among others during her professional career, she was public relations
director for Watts Hospital from 1953-56. The Watts Hospital Auxiliary was
organized under her direction in 1954. From 1961-66 she was advertising and
special events coordinator for Northgate Shopping Center. In subsequent years
she was an active volunteer in the Durham community.
A registered Girl Scout for more than 50 years, Lois was a Brownie, Junior and
Cadette troop leader for ten years or more, a staff member and director at the
Girl Scout day camp, Enock on the Eno, for several years, Durham county chair-
man of Girl Scout cookie sales for three years, and a member of the local Girl
Scout advisory board.
In 1978 she was named a Durham Mother of the Year, and in 1983 the Exchange Club of Greater Durham honored her community service by presenting her the Club’s first Book of Golden Deeds. A life member and former president of the Watts and later Durham Regional Hospital Auxiliary, she was named the Auxiliary’s “Volunteer of the Year” in 1971.
Both Lois and H.C. were active in the Rotary Club of Durham. He was a member
for more than 50 years, and served as club president and district governor. She
joined Rotary in 1989, when women became eligible for membership. Both were
Paul Harris Fellows, and she was given the Nicholas Fagan Award for outstanding service in 2013. They attended 14 Rotary International Conventions in the U.S. and abroad. Durham Rotarians have always considered her their club matriarch.
For 40 years or more they both were very involved in Durham’s United Way and
Its member organizations, H.C.as campaign chairman and later president, and
Lois as his aide. For several years she chaired or co-chaired the United Way’s
Personal Gifts division.
Their favorite gift in their 60 years of marriage was from their two daughters and
their husbands on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary in 1993 — the
Lois and H.C. Cranford Prize, awarded each year to the top public relations
senior in the UNC School of Media and Journalism, with which both maintained close ties through the years. H.C. was named to the N.C. Public Relations Hall of Fame in 1989, its second year. Lois was a weekly docent in the Charles Kuralt Center at the School, from its opening in 1999, after the entire contents of Kuralt’s office were moved from New York to Carroll Hall a couple of years after his death. She was a great admirer of his storytelling style of reporting, and enjoyed sharing that with new generations who had not known of his groundbreaking work.
Lois was a founding member of JAFA — the UNC Journalism Alumni and Friends
Association — and served as its president for two years, during which she also was a member of the board of UNC’s General Alumni Association. Both Lois and
H.C. were Life Members of JAFA and the UNC Alumni Association. She was
a member of Alpha Delta Pi at UNC, and chaired its building committee when
the sorority’s current house was purchased in 1956 and remodeled to meet
the chapter’s future needs.
Lois is survived by her two daughters, Susan Ross and her husband, Tom Hadzor of Durham, and Kathryn Raby and her husband, Jim Raby of Charlotte; her nine grandchildren: Andy Ross and wife Katherine, Sarah Ross, Will Raby, Harrison Raby, Elizabeth Raby, Sarah Hadzor Worley and husband Karl, Becca Hadzor Wildsmith and husband Tim, Bobby Hadzor and fiancé Julie Campbell, and Tommy Hadzor and wife Sarah Beth; her great-granddaughters Gertie Worley and Emma Kate Hadzor; her sister Elizabeth Tillman and husband, Ted, of Plant City, FL, her sister-in-law, Lucille Cranford of Durham and Clearwater, FL, five nieces and a nephew. She was pre-deceased by her husband H.C. Cranford, Jr. in 2004; her parents, Erma and Carter Ribelin; her sister, Norma Malone; her son-in-law, Bobby Ross; and her brother-in-law, Tom Cranford. She is also survived by a legion of friends of all ages, particularly the surviving members of her long-time Christmas Progressive Dinner Party, Ralph and Lib Rogers and Jackie Lane; close friend Carol Kurtz; and her devoted “readers” from her church, Trinity Avenue Presbyterian: Suzy Ward, Carol Leach and Marie Grauerholz.
The family would like to thank the staff of Carillon Assisted Living, where Lois lived for the past four years, and the nurses at Hock Family Pavilion for their gentle hospice care.
Funeral services will be held 2:30 PM Monday in Trinity Avenue Church, 927 Trinity Ave., with The Rev. Katie Crowe and The Rev. Robert Hadzor officiating. Special music will begin at 2:00 PM. Friends may visit 5-8 PM Sunday at Hall Wynne Funeral Service. Close friends are invited to join the family for the committal service 11 AM Monday at Maplewood Cemetery.
Contributions in Lois’ memory may be made to the Rotary Club of Durham’s Lois Cranford Learning Legacy Fund for scholarships (checks to the Durham Rotary Club mailed to PO Box 51572, Durham NC 27717), or to the Lois and H.C. Cranford PR Award Fund at the UNC School of Media and Journalism, (Checks to UNC, mailed to Box 3365, Carroll Hall, Chapel Hill 27514). Or, as the holidays approach, you may want to buy a bicycle for a child at Christmas time.