Cary native Bertha Pleasants Daniel’s ancestors shaped the history of Cary and Wake County before she was born.
Her grandparents, Andrew Jackson Pleasants and Eliza Rideout, moved to the newly-established Cary in the 1800s after the construction of the North Carolina Railroad. They helped found the First United Methodist Church – a fixture in downtown Cary.
Daniel’s brother, Robert Pleasants, served as Wake County Sheriff for 30 years; her brother, William Pleasants, was the Durham police chief for 18 years; and her nephew, Garland Jones, was Wake County’s first manager.
But Daniel, known as Bertie, also made her own mark on the area. An excellent cook and seamstress, a loving mother and role model, Daniel was the glue that created such a close-knit family.
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On Wednesday, Nov. 25, she turns 100 years old. And, in light of nearly a century of living in the Triangle, Daniel, who is thought to be the oldest living Cary native, reflects on what made that time so special.
“Family is certainly the one thing that I’m proudest of,” she said. “That’s what means more to me than anything else. I have always felt loved and cared for and happy.”
Born in Cary in 1915 to Alphius Pleasants and Ida Cook, Daniel grew up with 14 brothers and sisters on a cotton farm near downtown Cary. She attended Cary High School, then located off Academy Street, and graduated as the valedictorian in 1932.
“When I grew up in Cary, it was a crossroads,” she said. “We had Chatham Street and Academy Street, and that was about it. All of it has changed.”
After graduation, Daniel attended State College, now N.C. State University, for one year. But after her father passed away, her mother could no longer afford to send her to school.
Instead, Daniel studied stenography at the Raleigh School of Commerce and utilized this skill during her more than 30 years of employment in several North Carolina state departments. She retired in 1979 as an administrative assistant in the finance department of the N.C. Highway Commission, now the N.C. Department of Transportation.
Sharing her talents
But Daniel’s true love was always cooking and sewing.
“If her mother could have afforded (for her) to complete her education, she would have probably been a home (economics) teacher or home extension agent,” said Anne Hailey, Daniel’s daughter.
Bertie Daniel met Hailey’s father, Jeter Daniel, on a blind date and the couple married in Boston just days before Jeter was sent overseas to Okinawa Island during World War II. He served in the U.S. Army for four years and spent most of that time overseas before he was able to return home to his wife to start a family.
In addition to Hailey, they had a son, Jed Daniel. They now have six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Jeter and Bertie Daniel were married 32 years when cancer claimed Jeter in 1974.
“He was wonderful,” Bertie Daniel said. “We had a wonderful marriage, and we had two delightful children, which I am still blessed to have. He was so good to me.”
Even though she was unable to fulfill her dream of becoming a home economics teacher, Daniel still shared her love of cooking and sewing with her family and friends weekly. Every Sunday for decades, Daniel would cook a large Sunday meal for at least 10 guests.
“It got to be a standing joke at church because people would tap her on the shoulder and say, ‘What do you have cooking today?’” Hailey said.
Daniel’s specialties were chicken pot pie, fried chicken and fresh peach ice cream, which Hailey said the family could always count on as a delicious treat every summer.
“How she worked all week, did everything she had to do, was as active as she has always been and had a tremendous meal every Sunday at noon is beyond me,” Daniel’s niece Betsy Tobin said. “It was a real treat to be invited to Aunt Bert’s for Sunday dinner.”
Daniel also shared her love of cooking, sewing and gardening with her children and grandchildren. Her granddaughter, Emily Stokes, remembers helping her grandmother in the garden and learning how to snap and string green beans.
Everyone’s role model
Daniel was also the caretaker of the family, even at a young age.
Daniel recalled being about 10 or 11 years old when her mother took her and her 5-year-old sister, Ruby, to the N.C. State Fair. They were walking through the exhibit hall when her mother ran into someone she knew and started chatting with them. Daniel and Ruby continued to wander until they were separated from their mother.
“I walked through the whole afternoon. I was looking for her and she was looking for me. It was night before we found her ... but I never let go of my sister’s hand.”
To this day, her family and friends still come to her for advice and guidance.
“I wanted to entertain like she did. I wanted to cook like she did. I wanted to raise my children like she raised me,” Hailey said.
“She’s the finest role model you could ever ask for,” Tobin said.
Kathryn Trogdon; 919-460-2608; @KTrogdon