Life stories

Life Stories: Lilly Beth Goldston was a champion for stories and libraries

CorrespondentSeptember 22, 2013 

Goldston as a young woman, center in dark dress, newly wed with a community Bible study she was teaching at vacation bible school.


  • Lilly Beth VonCanon Goldston

    Born: Nov. 18, 1930, in Lee County

    Family: Marries Joseph B. Goldston Jr. in 1948, is widowed in 1999. They had three children: daughter Katherine Goldston of Cary; and sons Joseph B. Goldston III and David Goldston, both of Goldston.

    Education: Graduates from high school in Jonesboro and attends two years of college, first at Lewisburg College, then Campbell College, but does not graduate.

    Career: Begins work part-time as a librarian in Goldston in the 1960s, and within a few years moves to full-time position. She rotates throughout Alamance and Chatham counties for the next 30 years, and in that time advocates for the upgrading of the Goldston Library three times, the final time during her retirement.

    Dies: Aug. 29

When Lilly Beth Goldston first began working in the Goldston Library in the 1960s, it was located in one room in the basement of what had been the town jail. Her son David Goldston remembers it as dank and uninviting, no children’s circle time in sight and certainly no summer reading program. Lilly Beth Goldston wasted no time in remedying that situation, and soon could be found reading stories to little ones with regularity and gusto.

“That was really successful and really increased the use of the library quite a bit,” David Goldston said. It wasn’t long before she was advocating for a new home for the library, ideally one located above ground.

In 1972, a new library was built on Main Street in downtown Goldston, and Lilly Beth Goldston played an integral part in not only facilitating that project, but in filling the space within with resources that went well beyond books, her family said.

She died last month at the age of 82.

This became Goldston’s trademark in numerous libraries throughout Alamance and Chatham counties. For three decades she served the communities of Goldston, then Pittsboro and Siler City, advocating for books and resources, pushing for updates to the facilities, and when needed, wrangling potential ne’er-do-wells by inviting them inside the library rather than shooing them away.

Hers was an attitude of inclusion, said Helen Buckner, a former member of the Central N.C. Regional Library System board and longtime friend of Goldston. During her time at what is now called Wren Memorial Library in Siler City, groups of children from nearby Chatham Middle School would often congregate in front of the library while waiting for a ride home.

Rather than scold them for their rowdiness, Goldston invited them inside where she’d find them a book, or maybe offer a snack. She did the same when the school became Sage Academy, a school for children with behavioral and learning challenges.

“She helped solve the problem as opposed to help just get rid of it,” Buckner said.

Before these rural counties had the infrastructure to work autonomously, the community libraries were grouped together to bolster and share resources. While marriage made her part of one of the founding families of Goldston, but she showed no favoritism when on duty. Upon her retirement in 1995, Siler City presented her with a key to the city.

Working as a librarian was not something Goldston aspired to do, her family said. There was simply an opening in Goldston around the time the youngest of her three children began school.

“It was a job she fell into, really, but she always did love to read,” David Goldston said.

It was a perfect fit, for not only did she enjoy reading a good story, but she also loved telling a good story.

“She could take the most mundane subject and make it interesting. She probably would have made a good teacher,” he said.

“I can’t remember a time she didn’t have a book. She always stressed to us, her children, how important it was to get an education and read, explore and learn. I think there were times she wished she had finished college. However, she was very intelligent and did so much good,” said her daughter, Katherine Goldston.

During trips to Walmart in recent years, children she had read to in the 1970s often recognized her and made sure they said thank you. She created memories that were long cherished.

In addition to her more public legacy of bolstering library services, Goldston was also a two-time cancer survivor. Her first bout was ovarian cancer in her 40s, and she was given just six months to live.

“When Mom had cancer she didn’t stop working — no leave of absence. There were days she was too sick to go in, but for the most part she worked through it,” Katherine Goldston said. “I know she must have been terrified, but I never saw or felt it from her.”

Her ability to steel herself against an obstacle with grace marked her career as well. Goldston, in her pleasant way, was never afraid to ask for what the library needed.

“She was not a demanding person but she always was looking to make things better and to provide more materials that were needed, and of course, talking to the public, she knew what they wanted,” Buckner said.

Her love for the library — and the people it served — could be found in the small details.

“If my garden club wanted to meet at the library, Lilly Beth made sure we had punch and cookies. She was just a part of the community and wanted to participate in that,” Buckner said.

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