101 years of memories and victories for ‘Miss Bill’

Published 6:01 pm Tuesday, March 9, 2021

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Nobody seems to know how Willie Esther Douglas got the nickname “Bill”, and she’s not telling anyone, either. The lifelong North Carolinian has apparently earned the right not to be questioned, and nobody seems to mind.  She was modest about being the center of attention on March 5, her 101st birthday.

“There were almost too many people in here. This is a little house,” she said, “but we hugged and kissed and everything because we’ve all had our Corona shots.”

Family photographs adorn the walls of Miss Bill’s home along Route 17. Ask about them, and she will underplay her part in memories made over the years. Anyone else will tell you she’s a spunky, smart, straight-talking country girl who survived the early deaths of her husband and son and will still encourage you every time she sees you.

“If the church or fire department had a bake sale or someone died, she was there for them,” said Rebecca Rogers, who has shared service hours with Miss Bill for 59 years at Old Ford Church of God and the Old Ford Volunteer Fire Department.

Rogers said the centenarian outworked volunteers half her age. Her scratch-made cakes are as legendary as she is. At her 100th birthday celebration, a former pastor drove more than 1,000 miles to honor her. Miss Bill allegedly told him that if he’d let her know he was coming, she would have baked him a cake in time for the party.

“Oh my lord, I have no idea how many I’ve made,” she laughed when asked about the total number of baked goods she has donated over the decades. “I just keep on going.”

That energy included her job, according to friend and former coworker Gail Alligood, who shared office duties for the last 16 of Miss Bill’s 44 years with the North Carolina Agriculture Department.  They remain friends, still enjoying a monthly luncheon after Miss Bill gets her hair done near Alligood’s neighborhood. “She could outwork anyone in the office,” Alligood added.

“In the last 10 years I’ve seen her get down on her hands and knees and pick up pecans. This year she was shelling some of her nephew’s pecans,” said neighbor Theresa Freeman, her caregiver since the 1999 death of Miss Bill’s sister-in-law.

Her spunkiness is legendary among friends, one who requested anonymity before describing the day Miss Bill stepped onto her porch, took hold of the wrought iron railing, and realized a snake had wrapped itself around that support.

“Bill was in her late 90’s. She went straight out to Route 17 and stayed there until she flagged someone down who helped her get rid of that snake.”

“People my age reach the point where things don’t matter as much as people do,” she said. “Work hard on your relationships. Love God. Just live one day to the next. Stay grateful for every day that you have.”

Freeman says Miss Bill has become “my mother, my grandmother, and my aunt… and she doesn’t seem to mind a bit. I just have joy from being around her. She’s an inspiration to me.”