Rebekah Fulghum Kirby, 94, died peacefully on July 9, 2013, at Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community in Asheville.
Becky was born in Kenly, North Carolina, on May 30, 1919. She was the daughter of Raeford Thomas Fulghum and Nina Darden Fulghum. Her father was a pharmacist and a member of the Legislature, serving 8 terms in the State House of Representatives in the years spanning the Great Depression through World War II. Her mother was a social worker who was active in local politics, church and community charities and was the head of civilian personnel at Seymour Johnson Field during World War II.
Becky was an exceptional student who loved reading and writing throughout her life. She attended public school in Johnston County where her grand intellect was displayed early on when she recorded the highest score in the county in the 7th grade public high school examinations. She was valedictorian of the Class of 1936 at Kenly High School.
She graduated cum laude from Greensboro College in 1940, majoring in English with minors in Speech and French. In her service years, she was editor of the Echo, the college yearbook, which won a national award for excellence in journalism.
Following college, she taught English and French at Rankin High School in Greensboro from 1940-1943. During the remaining years of WWII, she returned home to help her father in managing Fulghum’s Drug Store and the family farms.
On December 20, 1946, she married James Russell Kirby of Wilson County who was a student at UNC law school. While he completed work on his law degree, which was conferred in 1948, she pursued graduate study in English and worked with the University Press and the Institute of Government.
In August 1948, the couple moved to Wayne County, and later to Wilson County, where her husband Russell pursued a career in law and politics. Russell served two terms as Mayor of Fremont, 6 terms in the Legislature as a State Senator from Wilson County and practiced law for 48 years.
Becky had three children in the first five years of her marriage, James Russell Kirby II (Jim), David Fulghum Kirby and Jane Darden Kirby (Whilden). While raising her children, Becky was active in the First Methodist Church of Wilson as a Sunday School teacher, an MYF leader, school PTAs, and civic charity organization. She continued her love of writing as the society editor for a local paper, The Weekly Sketch, writing a column, By the Way, for the Goldsboro News Argus, and had feature stories published in the News & Observer.
During the Wilson years, Becky served as President of the Women’s Society of Christian Service at First Methodist Church, County Chairman (twice) of the March of Dimes, board member of Wilson/Greene County Mental Health Association, member of the Committee to Make Wilson an All American City (successful!).
In 1960, Becky followed one of her other passions and family traditions – politics – by volunteering in Terry Sanford’s campaign for Governor. She became a regional coordinator for women’s activities for the Sanford Campaign and with the John F. Kennedy presidential campaign in the 1960 general election. In 1975, she was elected to serve as president of the Sir Walter Cabinet, an organization for the spouses of legislators, council of state and cabinet members in state government. In 1976, she was elected president of The Democratic Women of North Carolina. Becky served for 16 years on the East Carolina University Board of Trustees, appointed by Governor Terry Sanford and later reappointed by Governor Robert W. Scott. During her tenure on the board, East Carolina transitioned from a college to a university and the medical school was established. In 1976, Becky moved to Chapel Hill where she lived for more than 20 years. Forever the educator, Becky enrolled in graduate level classes in English at Duke University and was active in local book clubs in Chapel Hill. She was hired to work in the President’s office at Duke University to assist in speech writing and special projects and later joined the Office of Development at Duke as a staff writer and coordinator of stewardship of endowments and donor relations. When she retired in 1989, Duke awarded her an honorary membership in the Founders Society, one of the highest honors bestowed on supporters of Duke.
Becky moved to Ashville in 1999 and became an independent resident of the Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community. While living in Asheville, she experienced one of her most joyous moments when her daughter, Jane, was elected to the Legislature as a member of the State House of Representatives, fulfilling a dream that her children carry on a legacy of public service. For all her life’s accomplishments, family was always first and she gave unconditional love to her three children and seven grandchildren. No one could be a better role model, better mother, better grandmother or better citizen than Becky was to family and all those she met on her journey through life. She was truly a saint and our lives have been enriched by her presence.
She is survived by: her three children, sons, James R. Kirby II of Sacramento, Cal., David Fulghum Kirby of Raleigh; daughter Jane Kirby Whilden of Asheville; grandsons, James D. Kirby, Winston S. Kirby, Andrew Kirby and John Whilden; granddaughters, Emily Kirby, Blakely Whilden and Rebekah Whilden; and nephews, Tommy Hermann and William McDonald.
The family wishes to express their sincere thanks to all the staff and caretakers at Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community for the love, care and kindness extended to our mother during her days at Deerfield.
A memorial service will be held at Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community, St. Giles Chapel, Asheville, N.C., at 4:00 p.m., Friday, July 12, 2013. A graveside service will be held at Oakwood Cemetery, Raleigh, N.C., at 1:00 p.m. on July 13, 2013.
In lieu of flowers, family and friends wishing to honor Becky may send donations to the Rebekah Fulghum Kirby English and Literature Fellowship Fund, UNC Chapel Hill, PO Box 309, Chapel Hill, N.C., 27514.
Groce Funeral Home at Lake Julian is assisting the family and the memorial register is available at grocefuneralhome.com