06/11/06 — A friend from across the pond

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A friend from across the pond

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on June 11, 2006 2:05 AM

For her 90th birthday, Nancy Kelly decided she would do more than blow out candles on a birthday cake.

She decided to leave her native England and come "across the pond" to Wayne County to visit her friends -- Barbara Smith and Jean Bartlett.

The three met four years ago on a cruise ship and became friends.

Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Bartlett are sisters. The two have visited Mrs. Kelly ever since they met on the cruise. Their visits to England have included tours of castles and the countryside, as well as time at the various World War II memorials.

And World War II is something Mrs. Kelly remembers firsthand.

She was small and agile, she said, and she could search through rubble for survivors after the German air raids on Bristol, England.

"I was attached to the Air Raid Precaution People, and we didn't have sniffer dogs then," Mrs. Kelly said. "I could crawl inside the buildings, and one time I took an airman's boot. I didn't know his foot was still in it. It was a German's boot, so I didn't feel bad about it."

She was married, but didn't have any children yet then.

And ever since the American soldiers came to help the English stop the air raids, she has had a great love for Americans.

So, it only seemed natural that she and Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Bartlett would become friends.

The trio celebrated Mrs. Kelly's milestone Saturday as well as Mrs. Bartlett's. She turns 56 today. Mrs. Smith will turn 73 this October. The birthday bash -- which was a surprise for Mrs. Bartlett -- was held at her home near Eureka.

But none of the ladies let their ages interfere with fun.

"We feel it's wonderful," Mrs. Smith said. "We were afraid she would not be able to make it, but she's a feisty lady, she is."

Mrs. Kelly flew over with her son, Richard. The trip lasted seven and a half hours, but they said it went quickly.

"It was a lovely flight, good food," Mrs. Kelly said. "The plane was about half-full. I received personal care right through. I was glad to be old and disabled."

A wheelchair awaited her when she got off the plane. Airport security was strict. She had to take off her shoes. That had never happened before in her travels.

""I was rather ashamed of (my shoes)." she said. "They were old and shabby."

The Kellys will be in America until June 17, and the sisters have a whirlwind tour planned for them.

Today, they planned to take the Kellys to the coast where Richard could go fishing with their sons and sons-in-law.

"He bought a straw hat a while ago, and we've got plenty of sunscreen for him," Mrs. Smith said.

On Monday they're off to Biltmore House and Cherokee.

Even though Mrs. Kelly is on her first trip to Wayne County, her family is not new to the business of traveling -- and she has a North Carolina connection.

She said she is a descendant of Sir Walter Raleigh, who lived near their native village of Somerset in southwest England, near the fabled home of King Arthur at Glatonsbury.

Mrs. Kelly said after Raleigh brought back the potato and tobacco from the New World, he was sitting outside smoking one of those long clay pipes one day, when a servant came up from behind him, saw the smoke, and tipped water on him to "put out the fire."

The history buff said Raleigh was quite a lady's man, and Queen Elizabeth I had a "penchant" for him. "She rather fancied him," Mrs. Kelly said.

Elizabeth knighted Raleigh when he returned from the New World, she said.

"Heaven knows what you had to do to be knighted by Elizabeth," she added.

The three friends aren't sure what they will do to top this year's birthday celebration, but they are certain of one thing -- an ocean can't stop their friendship.