A celebration for the life of Grace Elizabeth Fletcher Chauncey, age 102, will be held at 1 pm May 22 at Lake Waccamaw United Methodist Church. Grace taught elementary and middle grades at Hallsboro for 34 years, touching three generations of students. She died Jan. 5.
Grace loved life. She practiced unconditional love and did it well. She was interested in almost everything and pursued experiences that brought her meaning and joy as long as she lived. She tried to find the best in everyone and every situation, and worked to bring out the best in those around her.
Grace was born Sept. 10, 1918 in rural Durham County, the seventh of 12 children. She was the first girl born in many years after six consecutive boys, and the resulting attention convinced her she was special and smart. She earned top standing in 1935 at Oak Grove School, and won awards for public speaking and essays. She wanted to go to college, to be a writer and to make a difference in the world. The Great Depression presented a challenge.
Grace would call it luck, but her family and friends knew it was her intellect that earned her a four-year academic scholarship to Duke University. She worked in the campus library and soda shop full-time and typed term papers to help pay expenses. Performing Handel’s Messiah as a member of the Duke Chapel Choir during those years was a highlight of her life. She graduated cum laude.
Out of necessity, Grace chose teaching over the more sporadic career of writing short stories and novels. She moved to Hallsboro to take her first assignment, where her life took some turns she did not plot.
She did not expect to quickly find her love and soul mate in that small community. She stayed put, and married Winfield Chauncey after waiting out World War II for four years.
She did not expect to have a child after 10 years of marriage with no children. Yet at age 38 she became a mother for the first time.
She did not expect to lose Winfield when she was just 52 and parent a willful teen-aged daughter alone.
She did not expect, when she was in her eighties, to get to places such as London and Egypt, where she accidentally got on a camel-for-hire while exiting the Pyramids and was briefly held for payment in the desert.
Nor did Grace expect to live for 102 years, three months and 25 days, although she counted every day almost to the end — and she made every day count.
“I have loved my life,” she told her daughter, Mary, over and over. “I wouldn’t change a minute even if I could.”
Grace especially loved the kids in her classrooms. She was a good teacher because she was curious herself, and found learning both fun and hard work. Her curiosity infected the students who were eager to learn. Her challenges made it possible for her to understand the less eager ones. She remembered most of her students by name, face, ambitions and accomplishments — and continued to tell their stories.
Grace continued learning — and growing —as long as she lived. When her vision dimmed and she could no longer read, she taught herself to listen and acquired a library of books on CD. She particularly admired how author Anna Quindlen drew characters and told stories.
At age 96 she made up her own mind that it was time for a new adventure. She left her home at Lake Waccamaw for the Cypress Glen independent living community in Greenville and did not look back.
Grace’s strong belief in unconditional love was the heart of her Christian faith. She also believed in practicing gratefulness. That was the foundation of her lifelong church work at LWUMC, from teaching Sunday school to choir to Women of the Church. She was more comfortable letting actions speak for her faith than words — including participating in three building campaigns and helping lead a key one.
Grace loved her willful daughter, mothering her tenderly and well for 65 years. She was excited her daughter turned out to be a writer and newspaper editor, although she frequently reminded her “all you have to do for me to love you is breathe.” Her daughter loved her Mama more than tongue can tell and more than sky can hold.
In addition to her daughter, Mary Chauncey Schulken, she is survived by her adored son-in-law, Bion Schulken, both of Greenville. She also thought of her Cypress Glen caregivers as her daughters, especially Celina Johnson, Janet Keel, Ruth Hardy, Liz Croom-Moore, Destiny Spruill, and Shela Corbett, all of Greenville, and Jenny Knox of Beargrass. Each of them made her life more comfortable and meaningful.
Masks and social distancing will be required in the church during Grace’s celebration of life. The family asks that those attending respect these measures. The family will have aprivate goodbye afterward at the graveside.
Grace would want donations to go to Lake Waccamaw Methodist Church, 506 Lakeshore Dr., Lake Waccamaw, NC, 28450, or to the Benevolent Care Fund at Cypress Glen, 252-830-0036, or 100 Hickory St., Greenville, NC 27858.
The family has been assisted by Wilkerson Funeral Home in Greenville and in Whiteville by McKenzie Mortuary.
To send flowers to Grace's family, please visit our floral store.