Alice Powell

Obituary of Alice Jeffress Powell

Our mom, Alice Jeffress Howell Powell, died peacefully in her sleep at her "Little House" in Boone, North Carolina on July 19, 2020 at the age of 91. She was a force of nature all of her life and could do anything she set her mind to. She embraced everything life had to offer and wasted no time getting at it. As a child, Mom ran wild and carefree with her 5 brothers and sisters in the foothills of her beloved historic home place, Athlone Farm, in Amherst, Virginia, a large working farm that housed an impressive extended family of aunts, uncles, grandparents, grandchildren, and the frequent "just need a place to stay for a while" relative. Supper meals were elbow-to-elbow and sometimes sharply interrupted by an urgent need to scatter foxes raiding the chicken house. Her early days consisted of preparing hundreds of jars of pickled peaches for cellar storage, taking care of the daily needs of old Aunt Mary, and resolving what might happen when she and her brother tied two cows' tails together. At Athlone, Mom learned the importance of hard work, the need to treat everyone with respect and dignity, and the value of a dollar. She grew up by the scruff of her neck, strong and confident. And wanting more. She insisted to her father that daughters should have the same opportunity to go to college as sons and graduated in 1950 from Roanoke College with honors and an English degree. As a senior, she was Roanoke College's "Princess in the Court of Queen Shenandoah" at the Apple Blossom Festival. She was on the May Court, was chosen "The Kappa Alpha Rose," and was a member of the Cardinal Key Club, and Sigma Kappa. Subsequently she became a 6th grade teacher. She danced through her early life with abandon and was in fact a jitterbug champion. On November 11, 1951, she married our father and her soul mate, Nathaniel Thomas "Dick" Powell, the son of a tenant farmer from Halifax, Virginia. She fell in love, but not in line. She and our father moved to Raleigh, North Carolina and lived in a seriously tiny two-bedroom home in "VetVille," a housing community for veterans seeking a college education under the G.I. Bill. While she never said so, we believe these were challenging days for our Mom, no longer surrounded by extended family and excitement but having to figure out how to do more with less of both. But Mom didn't wait for life to give her more. She demanded life give her more. She went in search of what she wanted, and then figured out a way to get it, a lesson all of her daughters have never forgotten. Under this philosophy, Mom and Dad searched for and bought their first real home. Childcare during these searches consisted of loading us up into their second-hand blue station wagon and promising an ice cream cone to keep us quiet for the ride. In that first real house, Mom's children, Becky and Pam, boogied to The Lawrence Welk Show in their frilly slips, wished they could play baseball with the boys in Little League, and Celia was born. Meanwhile, Mom immediately began to work on finding the land and money to build what she thought at the time would be their forever home. And then made it happen. Since one goal was reached, another got set. She helped establish Western Boulevard Presbyterian Church and spearheaded numerous programs under its roof. She founded the "50+" senior group at WBPC which is still active to this day. "Wednesday Night Live" was another of her church-based initiatives, a time when families could gather in the fellowship hall for a hot meal, camaraderie and worship. Her creative cooking became legendary, and when hurricanes ravaged her neighborhood, she fed the soaked and hungry hot off the grill on her backyard deck. Her impressionistic oil and pastel watercolor paintings proudly hang to this day throughout personal galleries up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Her handmade ceramic roosters still crow on many a bookshelf. She substitute taught, worked in the Department of Food Sciences at NCSU, and worked in the hotel industry. She was a singer, a songwriter, a poet, a lover of the written and spoken word, and an accomplished writer. She could do anything. Mom always looked like a million bucks. When money was tight (actually, even when it wasn't), she stood first in line at yard sales to score high-end blouses and slacks. She snagged prom dresses for her daughters off $8 clearance racks and dolled them up to match our desired "mod" fashion statements of the 60's and 70's. Mom challenged the expectations of women in her time. She believed that women had their place. And that place was every place. She became one of a whole generation of strong women who raised likewise strong women. Most important to her three daughters, five grandchildren and five great granddaughters, she was a loving, involved influence who devotedly attended our physical and emotional needs, encouraged (and insisted on) our educations, listened to and cheered on our aspirations, and loved us all unconditionally. And she never took no for an answer. Not from us nor from life. After Dad retired, and with her children satisfactorily secured in their independent lives, Mom, now in her 70's, found a way to return to her beloved Athlone, inheriting the home place and investing heart and soul into it just as her father had done a generation before. After traveling the hard road of restoring the historic home to its previous grandeur, it tragically burned to the ground. But Mom, through tears and raised fist, refused to give up or in. She went on to rebuild Athlone in its entirety exactly one foot off of its original foundation. She then became an active supporter of the Amherst County Museum And Historical Society, a museum dedicated to the history and people of her home county, and she brought new life and light to her family's historic church, Saint Mark's Episcopal. The cookbook she organized for the church was dedicated to her vision. She delivered daily meals to now old and crippled former Athlone farm hands, and restored Athlone's 7 historic outbuildings one by one. Mom and Dad hung tightly together throughout their lives. Mom continued as a chief cheerleader for an active and fulfilling life, with an eagle eye for finances and investments throughout their journey together. She treasured the value of her family and the earth, insisting that she and Dad buy back at auction some of his family's land lost during the Great Depression, just because they should. She and our father adored each other, and she stood tall and strong for him when he became terminally ill in 2007 and then scattered his ashes across the landscapes of their lives when he passed. The loss of our father would have grounded an ordinary spirit, but Mom was no ordinary spirit. She pulled herself up from her intense grief at his loss to travel yet another fork in the road. She started a Memorial garden in Dad's honor at Saint Mark's Episcopal Church and, when that was done, she designed, built and dedicated a splendid memorial garden large enough for her entire extended family under the tall walnut and magnolia trees at Athlone. She enjoyed vacations with her daughters, renovated her kitchen on a whim one day when there was nothing else to do, and took long drives throughout the countryside looking for adventure. She just couldn't stop. Over her final years, she willed herself back into action from a broken pelvis, broken ribs, and two broken hip surgeries. Even in her very last days, she fought with everything she had against the dying of the light. The earthly road Mom traveled is almost impassable, so populated is it by all the archives of a life well lived and the saved and salvaged souls she escorted along the way. Our mom was a Renaissance Woman, and it took 91 years of living for her to express and impart to us all of her gifts. We still suspect she took a few secret ones with her. We will be forever grateful, and will always feel most fortunate, to be a part of the wonderful family and community she and our father built together and to carry on her legacy. Our hearts ache at our loss, but her spirit soars in our souls. Alice was born on January 1, 1929 in Amherst Co, VA, to the late John V. Howell, Sr. and Maria Louise Borum. She was preceded in death by her husband, Nathaniel Thomas "Dick" Powell, her sisters Mary Louise Johnson and Margaret Perry, and by her brothers John V. Howell, Jr, Thomas Howell, and Robert Howell. She is survived by her daughters Pamela Powell Williamson (Jerry), Rebecca Powell O'Connell (Kevin), and Celia Powell Liebl (Rex); by her grandchildren Shannon O'Connell Van Heest (Kyle), Kevin Brent O'Connell, Jr., Samuel Thomas Liebl, Rebecca O'Connell Shelton (Bailey), and Joseph Morton Liebl. She is also survived by 5 great granddaughters: Margaret, Alice Virginia, Blythe, Emmeline, and Adaire Van Heest and by three beloved sisters-in-law: Betty and Robbie Howell, Elizabeth (Libby) Howell-Jennings, and many nieces and nephews. Due to COVID-19, the family plans to hold "Celebration of Life" services once it is safe to do so. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 670 Patrick Henry Hwy, Clifford, VA, 24533; Western Boulevard Presbyterian Church, 4900 Kaplan Drive, Raleigh, NC, 27606; The Amherst County Museum And Historical Society, PO Box 741, Amherst, VA 24521; or to a personal cause of choice.
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